Beyond the French paradox

  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the single largest killer of U.S. males and females.
  • CHD is caused by partial or complete clogging of the coronary arteries that nourish the heart.
  • Atherosclerosis refers to the accumulation of fatty streak lesions in the coronary arteries.
  • A recent study has found that moderate consumption of alcohol seems to inhibit the development of atherosclerotic lesions as well as inhibit the progression of existing lesions.
  • In some cases, alcohol appears to have protective properties against heart disease.

"Even though the French eat a lot more cholesterol than we do," said Eugene E. Emeson, professor of pathology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, "they have less heart disease than we do. It was once thought this was because they drink a lot of red wine." Emeson, lead author of a study in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER), was explaining what is popularly known as the "French Paradox." Emeson said that while there may indeed be protective properties in the products of red and white grapes, he and his colleagues found that the alcohol itself also has protective properties against heart disease.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the single largest killer of U.S. males and females, according to the American Heart Association. In 1997, for example, CHD claimed the lives of close to 470,000 Americans. CHD is caused by partial or complete clogging of the coronary arteries that nourish the heart. This blockage can choke the blood supply to areas of the heart, resulting in tissue death (also known as a heart attack).

"This process can narrow the artery by up to 90 percent," said Emeson, "leaving only a pinpoint. This occurs very gradually, over a long period of time. However, once you have a clot, and sudden occlusion, the muscle dies. People can have occ

Contact: Eugene E. Emeson, M.D.
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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