The term French paradox refers to the observation that although the French eat similar amounts of high-fat foods, exercise less, and smoke more than Americans, they appear to have a markedly lower mortality rate from heart disease . Medical experts generally agree that a low-fat diet , exercise, and not smoking minimize the risk of heart attacks, which makes this paradox difficult to understand. Studies suggest that one of the reasons the French have a lower rate of heart disease may be their regular consumption of red wine.
The specific mechanism by which the French paradox operates has not yet been identified. Some research suggests that antioxidants called flavonoids, natural chemical compounds found in red wine, may confer important health benefits to the heart and blood vessels. Red grapes are one of the richest sources of flavonoids, which may make red wine more heart-healthy than white wine, beer, or other spirits. Other research suggests that pigments in red wine called polyphenols are responsible for explaining the French paradox. Polyphenols, found in red grape skins, are believed to act as antioxidants, control blood pressure , and reduce blood clots. Some research indicates that red grape juice is markedly less potent than wine in conferring health benefits. Researchers suggest that something in the winemaking process changes the polyphenols' properties.
Not all scientists believe in the French paradox. Some believe that it is a health myth caused by errors in health-data reporting on the incidence of heart disease in France. Also, some scientists argue that there is no scientific consensus over the protective effect of any alcoholic beverage on heart disease.
Dr. Serge Renaud, a scientist from Bordeaux University in France, coined the term French paradox after completing his 1992 landmark report that indicated France's low incidence of heart disease might be caused by wine consumption.
Hackman, Robert M. (1998, September). "Flavonoids and the French Paradox." USA Today, v. 127, no. 2640, 58–59.
MSNBC News. "Study May Explain French Paradox." Available from <http://www.msnbc.com/news>