The French paradox is the observation that French folks suffer a relatively low incidence of heart disease, despite having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats The term French paradox was coined by Serge Renaud, a scientist from Bordeaux University in France.
When a description of this paradox was aired in the United States on 60 Minutes in 1991 with the assumption that red wine decreases the incidence of cardiac diseases, the consumption of red wine increased 44% and some wine sellers began promoting their products as "healthy food"
The Boston School of Medicine, where he worked for a time, sent this tribute to Serge Renaud who passed away (1927-2012) at the age of 84 in France, His work and the 60 Minutes show helped to build the California wine industry.
Over many decades, Professor Renaud was the scientist who initiated much of the work relating the consumption of wine and other types of alcohol to cardiovascular disease and other of the diseases associated with ageing. He was the scientist most associated with the role of red wine in protecting the French from coronary artery disease (the "French Paradox"), and a leading figure in studying how other dietary factors relate to health. His innovative concepts have sometimes taken many years to be appreciated by other scientists. He made a major contribution with his research demonstrating how alpha-linolenic acid, monounsaturated fats, and other components of the "Cretan-type Mediterranean Diet," play key roles in promoting health.
As quoted in the Lancet tribute by Simini, Professor Renaud said the results of these studies on heart disease and cardiac arrhythmias made him "wonder about the origins of civilisations (civilizations). It is intriguing that ancient Asian and Mediterranean civilisations used natural oils in cooking—colza and olive—with similar fatty acid compositions." [Colza oil is closely related to the widely used rapeseed oil and canola oil.] And because of his belief in ancient wisdom when it comes to diet and health, Renaud ends his book Le régime santé2 with a warning: "Don't look for a pill that replaces [the Cretan diet]. There is no such thing."
Serge Renaud was born in Cartelègue, Haute Gironde, France, and after starting his medical training in France moved to Montreal, Canada, and later to Boston, Mass. He returned to France in 1973 and became director of the INSERM unit in Lyon, France, where much of his arch was carried out.
In the Lancent tribute to Renaud in 2000 Bruno Simini quotes Serge as saying: "If I hadn't lived with my grandparents and great-grandparents on a vineyard near Bordeaux, perhaps this idea wouldn't have occurred to me. When you see people reach the age of 80 or 90 years, who have been drinking small amounts of wine every day, you don't believe wine in low doses is harmful."
People around the world have profited, and will continue to profit, from the lifelong scientific work of Serge Renaud.