Red wine substitute tough pill to swallow
August 27, 1999
From Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore
PARIS, France (CNN) -- Whether pastries rich with butter or pates loaded with cholesterol, much of the French cuisine literally oozes fat. Yet France has a lower rate of disease than the United States, where counting fat grams has become an obsession.
Many credit red wine for the French paradox, and an Italian company hopes to condense the beverage's health benefits into a pharmaceutical product. But wine drinkers may find it a tough pill to swallow.
Modest, regular consumption of alcohol, such as one or two glasses of wine a day, can cut one's risk of cardiovascular disease, recent research suggests.
But the dangers associated with too much alcohol can outweigh the benefits. And France has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the world.
In the heart of France's wine country, researchers hope to offer an alternative.
"We can't suggest the use of wine as a drug for a lot of reasons. Of course the risk of addiction is very high," says Dr. Paolo Morazzoni, scientific director of Indena S.p.A.
Scientists in the Indena lab are part of a worldwide effort to unlock the medical secrets of the grape. The research shows grapes contain a variety of substances that reduce the artery-clogging effects of cholesterol, in particular flavonoids.
Purple grape juice has the same cholesterol-fighting power as red wine, but fresh grapes do not, according to some of the latest research.
"There's something in the extraction process, and the type of grape that's used -- requiring seeds and stems, the skins, parts of the grape that most people don't usually eat -- that seems to be important to get the correct group of flavonoids, to have the beneficial effects that we've seen," says Dr. Jane Freedman of Georgetown University.
Indena, an Italian company that specializes in botanical derivatives for the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries, is processing tons of French grape seeds into "pharmaceutical grade" grape seed extract.
Eating a well-balanced diet could provide the same anti-oxidant effect, but that may not always be possible for many people, Indena's medical consultant says.
Despite the growing number of studies supporting the power of the natural anti-oxidants in grapes, there's no agreement on the best source. And Indena faces a tough task in convincing people to switch from drinking wine to popping a pill.
"The glass of wine, the pleasure to drink wine -- the pill is not the same," one wine drinker explains.
Will wine help your heart?
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