French people are known to consume foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol, yet they have a low mortality rate from coronary heart disease. The discovery that the saturated fat intake in France is similar to that of other developed countries, while French mortality from coronary heart disease is only one-third the average of such countries, has become known as French Paradox.
In 1979 St. Leger and his colleagues’ conducted an epidemiological study that demonstrated a significant reduction in mortality from coronary heart disease with higher consumption of wine.
The French paradox seems to confirm this. The French have a high intake of saturated fat (14-15 percent of energy), which is similar to amounts consumed in U.K and the U.S. This diet has been thought to lead to high serum cholesterol concentrations and elevated rates of coronary heart disease. However, the mortality rates from coronary heart disease in France are much closer to those in the Mediterranean countries, Japan, and China, where such rates are less than one-third of that in North America. Lifestyle seems to play a role in the French Paradox. France is reported to have the highest wine intake and the highest total alcohol intake with the second lowest mortality rate from coronary heart disease in the world. This suggest a protective effect of wine no matter how much fat is consumed.
Several wine components show promise for their possible cardio protective effects. Apart from alcohol itself, polyphenolic components such as bioflavonoids and proanthocyanidins, components of grape skin, such as resveratrol and nitric oxide are also important. Nitric oxide is found to have relaxing effect on the endothelium of coronary arteries and aorta. Low levels of nitric oxide have been shown to cause hyperlipidemia in rats. The beneficial effect of alcohol may be due to its effect on fibrinolytic factors.