Polyphenols: Solution to the French Paradox

Polyphenols in Red Wine
Protect Heart and Brain

Do you love to eat cheese, butter, eggs, and rich cream sauces?
Do you think you can indulge in such a heavily saturated fat diet
and not suffer the consequences?
Maybe you can, if you do as the French do.

Despite the heavy consumption of cheese, butter, eggs, rich creamy sauces, and the highest per capita consumption of wine in the world, the French people appear to be surprisingly healthy, without heart disease. Although their diet contains approximately fifteen percent more saturated fat than an American diet, and even though they exercise less than Americans, the rate of heart disease for the French people is 60 percent lower than that of Americans.1 These puzzling figures form the basis for what has been referred to as the French Paradox, and France's passion for fine wine has explained this mystery. Studies have shown that the moderate consumption of red wine is linked to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.2 But wine consumption is not the total panacea. There are serious consequences to overuse ranging from liver disease to addiction.

Resveratrol and quercetin are the
two primary heart-beneficial
compounds present in red wine
that help protect against coronary
heart disease.

Red wine contains a broad range of polyphenols that are present in the skin and seeds of the grapes, including resveratrol, and the flavonoids(all flavonoids are polyphenols) quercetin and catechin. Resveratrol and quercetin are the two primary compounds present in red wine that are thought to help protect against coronary heart disease.3 They are both potent antioxidants that act as free radical scavengers once they enter the body, and, when taken together, they have a synergistic effect. Quercetin is known to reduce atherosclerotic plaque buildup by helping reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and platelet aggregation.4 Oxidation is a destructive process rendering the body more susceptible to dysfunction and disease. Resveratrol also decreases the stickiness of blood platelets, and helps blood vessels to remain open and flexible.5 Like quercetin, it inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol,6 and, in addition, reduces the damage that LDL can do to the lining of blood vessels.

Researchers have demonstrated that resveratrol has a broad range of health benefits. It has been shown to not only promote better cardiovascular health, but also to have anticancer9 and antiviral effects.10 Resveratrol has been shown to inhibit an enzyme needed for DNA synthesis involved in the proliferation of cancer cells.11-12

In another study, resveratrol was found to inhibit the replication of herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 in a dose-dependent, reversible manner (you don't get the benefit after you stop taking it), to inhibit the reactivation of viruses from infected neurons, and to limit viral growth.10

In addition, there is evidence that moderate red wine consumption may also have benefits which protect neurons or other brain cells against cerebral ischemia, macular degeneration,13 Alzheimer's disease,14 and possibly Parkinson's disease.15 Quercetin and resveratrol have also been shown to have protective effects in neurotoxicity.16 Now, a recent study done at McGill University provides new evidence that moderate wine consumption may protect against certain neurological disorders, especially age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as memory loss and dementia.17

Quercetin is known to reduce
atherosclerotic plaque buildup by
helping to reduce the oxidation of 
low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and
reduce platelet aggregation.

Because oxidative stress is an age-related process implicated in various neurodegenerative disorders, the team at McGill University investigated the possible neuroprotective effects of the red wine constituents quercetin, resveratrol, and catechin on cell death induced by a nitric oxide analog and other toxic compounds. The experiments were performed in cultured cells of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that has been found to be severely affected by Alzheimer's disease and ischemia (poor blood flow) because it is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress.

Resveratrol also decreases the
stickiness of blood platelets, and
helps blood vessels to remain
open and flexible.

The results clearly indicated that quercetin and resveratrol are able to protect and even inhibit the damaging effects produced by oxidative stress on  hippocampal neurons that were exposed to nitric oxide-related toxicity.17 This inhibitory process may be relevant to neurodegenerative events occurring during cerebral ischemia (poor blood flow to the brain such as a stroke), and other neurodegenerative disorders. It is reasonable to suspect that resveratrol and quercetin may have additional neuroprotective benefits that haven't even been explored yet.

While a few studies have shown that moderate amounts of ethanol (grain alcohol, the drinkable kind, such as that found in wine, beer, and other spirits) may have some health benefits, the deleterious effects of excessive ethanol consumption are all too evident. Excessive drinking can cause severe brain and liver damage, as well as many other health problems. Because alcohol is also considered addictive, if someone doesn't already drink wine, the research summarized in this article shouldn't be a reason to begin. So, here we are once again, with yet another French Paradox; red wine consumption, it seems, can simultaneously have neuroprotective as well as neurodegenerative effects. This means that while the polyphenols in wine may have protective benefits that extend or enhance life, too much consumption of wine may lead to health degeneration. Wine can be a double-edged sword unless it is imbibed in moderation.

By supplementing with
resveratrol and quercetin one can
gain the polyphenol benefits of red
wine without the health risks of
drinking alcohol.

Fortunately, if one is interested in the neuroprotective potential and cardiovascular benefits of red wine constituents, and does not wish to drink wine, there is a satisfactory alternative in drinking fermented grape juice.

"Saluté" can be your wish for a new heart and strong brain as you consider doing as the French do: indulging in the formerly forbidden high cholesterol foods such as ice cream, custards, and creamy Brie. But instead of filling your goblet with red wine, all you need to do is fill it with the heart-beneficial polyphenol and antioxidant nutrients.

Vive La France.


  1. St Leger AS, Cochrane AL, Moore F. Factors associated with cardiac mortality in developed countries with particular reference to the consumption of wine. Lancet 1979 May 12;1(8124):1017-20.
  2. St Leger AS, Cochrane AL, Moore F. Ischaemic heart disease and wine. Lancet 1979 Jun 16;1(8129):1294.
  3. Ducimetiere P, Lang T, Amouyel P, Arveiler D, Ferrieres J, Senti M, Glaser JH. Why mortality from heart disease is low in France. BMJ 2000;320:249.
  4. Hayek T, Fuhrman B, Vaya J, Rosenblat M, Belinky P, Coleman R, Elis A, Aviram M. Reduced progression of atherosclerosis in apolipoprotein E-deficient mice following consumption of red wine, or its polyphenols quercetin or catechin, is associated with reduced susceptibility of LDL to oxidation and aggregation. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 1997 Nov;17(11):2744-52.
  5. Bertelli AA, Giovanninni L, Bernini W, et al. Antiplatelet activity of cis-resveratrol. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1996;22(2):61-3.
  6. Belguendouz L, Fremont L, Gozzelino MT. Interaction of trans-resveratrol with plasma lipoproteins. Biochem Pharmacol 1998 Mar 15;55(6):811-6.
  7. Draczynska-Lusiak B, Doung A, Sun AY. Oxidized lipoproteins may play a role in neuronal cell death in Alzheimer's disease. Mol Chem Neuropathol 1998 Feb;33(2):139-48.
  8. Zini R, Morin C, Bertelli A, Bertelli AA, Tillement JP. Effects of resveratrol on the rat brain respiratory chain. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1999;25(2-3):87-97.
  9. Jang M, Cai L, Udeani GO, Slowing KV, Thomas CF, Beecher CWW, Fong HHS, Farnsworth NR, Kinghorn AD, Mehta RG, Moon RC, Pezzuto JM. Cancerchemopreventive activity of resveratrol, a natural product derived from grapes. Science 1997; 10:218-21.
  10. Docherty JJ, Fu MM, Stiffler BS, Limperos RJ, Pokabla CM, DeLucia AL. Resveratrol inhibition of herpes simplex replication. Antiviral Res 1999 Oct;43(3):145-55.
  11. Fontecave M, et al. Resveratrol, a remarkable inhibitor of ribonucleotide reductase. FEBS Lett 1998;421:277-9.
  12. Jang, op. cit., 219.
  13. Obisesan TO, Hirsh R, Kosoko O, Carlson L, Parrott M. Moderate wine consumption is associated with decreased odds of developing age-related macular degeneration in NHANES-1. J Am Ger Soc 1998;46:1-7.
  14. Orgogozo JM, Dartigues JF, LaFont S, Letenneur L, Commenges D, Salomon R, Renaud S, Breteler MB. Wine consumption and dementia in the elderly: a prospective community study in the Bordeaux area. Revue Neurologique 1997;153:185-92.
  15. Dawson VL, Dawson TM, London ED, Bredt DS, Snyder SH. Nitric oxide mediates glutamate neurotoxicity in primary cortical cultures. Proc.Natl Acad Sci 1991: Jul 15,88(14):6368-71.
  16. Bastianetto S, Zheng W, Quirion R. Neuroprotective abilities of resveratrol and other red wine constituents against nitric oxide-related toxicity in cultured hippocampal neurons. Brit J Pharm 2000;131:711-20.
  17. Ibid., 715.

Featured Product

  • Learn more about Resveratrol benefits and implementation strategies.

FREE Subscription

  • You're just getting started! We have published thousands of scientific health articles. Stay updated and maintain your health.

    It's free to your e-mail inbox and you can unsubscribe at any time.
    Loading Indicator