French “Paradox” Solved: It’s Not The Red Wine

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In 1993 French researcher Serge Renaud coined the phrase "the French paradox."  He was referring to the mysterious heart health enjoyed by the French despite their high saturated fat diet.  Ever since then, people all over the world have been guzzling red wine and popping resveratrol pills in an effort to duplicate the effect.

Some 20 years later, researchers are now suggesting that rather than red wine, the secret to the French paradox may be the protective effect of their aged cheeses.

In an article published in Medical Hypotheses, researchers from Lycotec, Ltd., a biotech company in Britain, concluded that "cheese consumption might be an important factor in conferring resistance to cardiovascular disease in the French population."

Why Red Wine is Not the Answer to the French Paradox

It should be noted that many natural health professionals do not believe the French paradox even exists.  They dispute the basic premise that saturated fat causes heart disease.  Nevertheless, mainstream medicine clings to the hypothesis.    

In challenging the theory that red wine explains the so-called paradox, the authors noted that in recent years wine consumption in France has dropped but cardiovascular disease has not increased. On the other hand, in Eastern European countries where red wine consumption is on the rise, there has been no reduction in very high heart disease rates.

To the bedevilment of mainstream medicine and dieticians, despite a high saturated fat diet, France enjoys the third lowest rate of cardiovascular mortality.  Only Korea and Japan have better outcomes. Heart disease and stroke are responsible for 50 out of every 100,000 deaths in France compared to 129 out of every 100,000 deaths in the US.

While a Mediterranean diet has also often been credited with France's heart health, the Lycotec team noted that, with the exception of those in the south, most of the French don't actually eat a Mediterranean diet. However, regular consumption of cheese is characteristic of the entire French population.

A typical French meal may include up to 40% saturated fats from butter, cheese, whole milk and other dairy products, as well as cured meats, pastries, and some fruits and vegetables.  It also includes moderate amounts of wine.

In support of their theory, the authors also point to other countries with high cheese consumption and low heart disease rates such as Switzerland and Greece. At 26.1 kilograms (57.5 pounds) per person, annual cheese consumption in France is second only to Greece.

Why is Cheese Heart Healthy?

The study authors reviewed a large body of epidemiological, clinical and experimental evidence suggesting that regularly eating cheese may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They noted that some studies have discovered peptides in cheese that inhibit the types of inflammation leading to chronic diseases and signs of aging.

Blue or molded cheeses are particularly promising as contributing factors to the French paradox according to the authors.  They called for more studies to confirm their hypothesis.

The key may be the time-consuming ripening process of cheeses such as Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Camembert. During the long fermentation process, aged cheeses develop organic substances including probiotics that may be responsible for heart health benefits.

The researchers suggested that there will probably never be one single factor identified as the secret to the cardiovascular health of the French but that multiple factors contribute to the phenomenon. Besides red wine, these factors may include smaller portion sizes, fewer meals/snacks, careful meal preparation using fresh ingredients, fewer processed foods, regular exercise, and more fruits and vegetables.

But for cheese lovers, this theory is encouraging. Enjoy traditionally ripened blue veined cheeses like Roquefort and Gorgonzola, as well as aged Camembert and Brie.  Stay away from Velveeta, soy cheese, and other modern processed "cheese products."

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

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