Scientist Says Wine Reduces Death Rate

February 18, 1998, Filed at 2:36 a.m. EST
By The Associated Press

PARIS (AP) – The French scientist who showed the world that wine is good for the heart has a new discovery: Two to three glasses of wine a day reduces death rates from all causes by up to 30 percent.

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"I've always suspected this,'' said Serge Renaud, whose findings appeared today in the journal Epidemiology. "Wine protects not only against heart disease but also most cancers.'' Renaud's study of 34,000 middle-aged men living in eastern France supports what has become known as "the French paradox'': Frenchmen who eat lots of saturated fat but still live a long time.

Results were the same for smokers, nonsmokers and former smokers, he said, and there were no differences between white collar and working-class drinkers.

Recent studies in the United States found that a drink of almost any alcohol can lower death rates by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Renaud, however, maintains that wine also acts against other heart ailments and cancers because of the antioxidant action of polyphenol compounds in grapes.

"Wine is a more diluted form of alcohol, which is important to the body, and if taken moderately at mealtimes it is easily absorbed,'' he explained.

After four glasses a day, Renaud warned, wine has an adverse effect on death rates. Although it still protects the heart, excess drinking raises the danger of cancers and liver disease.

Renaud set off a California wine boom in 1991 when he outlined his French-paradox theory in an interview on CBS' 60 Minutes.

"It started a huge controversy,'' the 70-year-old research recalled, chuckling. "The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms challenged me to show numbers. Well, here they are.''

In fact, he had already made his case in a 1992 article in Lancet. He reported that 20-30 grams daily of alcohol can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by at least 40 percent.

Alcohol protects the heart mainly by acting on platelets in the blood to prevent clotting, he found. Subsequent studies elsewhere supported these findings.

In the Epidemiology article, Renaud reported a 30 percent reduction in death rates from all causes from 2-3 glasses of wine a day, a 35 percent reduction from cardiovascular disease, and an 18-24 percent reduction from cancer.

He plans a second article later this year with a more detailed analysis of his sampling.

Renaud, a cardiologist, works with the prestigious INSERM unit at the University of Bordeaux. His book, "Healthy Diet,'' is popular in France.

"Growing up around Bordeaux, you know instinctively that wine is good for you,'' Renaud said. "My grandparents, their friends, all lived to be 80 or 90. I knew there was some special reason.''

During the 1970s, he began to work quietly to research the subject at the INSERM unit in Lyon.

He is a strong advocate of the Mediterranean diet, based heavily on wheat, olive oil and vegetables, with more fish than red meat. And, of course, Renaud adds, a healthy amount of wine.

Renaud laments a steady drop in wine consumption among many Frenchmen, who these days take less time for meals and relaxation.

"The Italians still drink a lot of wine,'' he said. "Maybe after time we will have to call it 'the Italian paradox."

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For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.