It’s a puzzle to doctors.
How can the French indulge in so many foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats yet enjoy such a low incidence of coronary heart disease?
Well, one obvious answer is that saturated fats are good for you, as we now know. It’s carbs that are the problem. Maybe you shouldn’t get too carried away with animal fats, but when it comes to saturated fats from plants, there’s no question they’re good for you: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, dark chocolate.
But there’s another element in the French diet that may account for their good health: their passion for red wine. Scientists found a compound in this alcoholic beverage that greatly benefits the cardiovascular system. . .
They’ve since discovered the benefits of red wine go well beyond the heart. It helps prevent cancer, protects the brain, reduces the risk of diabetes, and may even add years to your life.
Fortunately, you don’t have to drink red wine to reap the benefits. The “secret ingredient” – resveratrol — is found in many other foods.
There are now many well-documented heart benefits attributed to resveratrol:
- Reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke by dilating blood vessels and inhibiting excess clot formation
- Lowers calcium build-up in the walls of the arteries
- Decreases LDL (bad cholesterol) and raises HDL (good) cholesterol
- Helps maintain a healthy blood pressure
- A powerful antioxidant, it defends against damaging free radicals forming in coronary arteries
- Strong anti-inflammatory action reduces arterial stiffness
In a 12-month study of 75 patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease, a resveratrol-rich grape supplement was compared to a grape supplement lacking resveratrol and another containing a placebo.
Only the resveratrol group saw significant improvements in four markers of inflammation and one marker for blood clotting that signal a lower risk of heart disease.
Laboratory studies in lab culture and animal models show resveratrol protects against cancer in a number of ways.
- Reduces both insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and IGF-binding protein 3. These markers are associated with tumor formation and metastasis
- Prevents certain changes in DNA that can trigger a cell to become cancerous
- Inhibits STAT3, a signaling pathway that leads to proliferation of tumors
- Increases p53, the tumor suppression gene
- Modulates enzyme systems that are involved with activation and detoxification of carcinogens
- Lowers inflammatory molecules that promote cancer formation and spread
- Inhibits angiogenesis – the unhealthy formation of new blood vessels that helps cancer grow and metastasize
Protects The Brain
A UK study in 2010 tested resveratrol against placebo in 22 healthy adults. Those taking the active supplement saw an increase in blood flow to the brain.
Other studies in animal models show it protects the brain against traumatic injury and stroke.
In a 2016 review that looked at over 100 studies, researchers wrote that resveratrol can improve cognition and mood, and enhance the ability of the hippocampus – a key area of learning and memory – to generate new brain cells and respond positively to changes in its environment.
In 2013 doctors at Harvard Medical School demonstrated that resveratrol stimulates the production of the ‘longevity gene’, SIRT1. This blocks disease processes by speeding up energy production in the cells’ energy centers – the mitochondria.
Harvard professor of genetics David Sinclair said, “In the history of pharmaceuticals, there has never been a drug that binds to a protein to make it run faster in the way that resveratrol activates SIRT1.”
The activation of SIRT1 is believed to trigger favorable health processes which may protect against Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other degenerative disorders.
Resveratrol can also increase activity of the enzyme telomerase. This helps to rebuild telomeres, the protective caps that make up the tail ends of DNA strands. Telomeres become shorter with aging, greatly increasing the risk of disease.
No Need to Drink Alcohol
Dr. Lindsay Brown, associate professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Queensland, Australia wrote:
“The breadth of benefits is remarkable — cancer prevention, protection of the heart and brain from damage, reducing age-related diseases such as inflammation, reversing diabetes and obesity, and many more.
“It is a cliché that ‘nature is a treasure trove of compounds,’ but studies with resveratrol show that this is correct!”
If you don’t drink red wine you can still gain the benefits of resveratrol from many other dietary items. Good sources include red and dark purple grapes and their juices, blueberries, mulberries, cranberries, bilberries, peanuts, pistachios and dark chocolate.