French scientist who sent sales of red wine soaring in America
21-11-1927 — 28-10-2012
SERGE Renaud, who has died aged 84, was a research scientist who became a hero of the French wine industry when he announced on American television that drinking red wine is good for the heart.
Renaud's name was closely associated with the "French Paradox" - the observation that French people live longer than Americans and have fewer heart attacks despite the fact that they smoke more, take less exercise and enjoy delights such as foie gras, confit de canard and Brillat-Savarin - so fatty that it is known as "triple-cream" cheese.
Renaud became an overnight celebrity in 1991 when he appeared on the CBS documentary program 60 Minutes, which was investigating why France had only a third of the US rate of cardiovascular disease, despite a diet equally rich in fat. Renaud argued that the two or three glasses of red wine most French people consumed every day with their meals was a significant factor.
The effect on American audiences was dramatic, banishing the ghosts of Prohibition and boosting consumption of red wine, which had been falling throughout the 1980s. In 1992 US sales of red table wine increased by nearly 40 per cent and stayed strong over subsequent years. The program also spawned new "lifestyle" books promoting the benefits of wine consumption.
Renaud's argument launched a new wave of research exploring the health benefits of wine, to which he contributed further evidence that, in addition to its protective effects on the heart, red wine also protects against most cancers.
He did not, however, attribute the longevity of his fellow countrymen entirely to wine. He noted that the French also ate more healthily than Americans: "If you eat French fries and steak every day, with two glasses of wine, you won't go very far."
Renaud was born at Cartelegue, in the Haute Gironde, where his grandfather had a vineyard. After reading medicine at Bordeaux University he moved to Montreal, Canada, where he took a doctorate in cardiovascular disease, and later to Boston.
In 1973 he returned to France as a director of public medical research at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Lyon, where he carried out most of his research.
Following his 60 Minutes interview the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms challenged Renaud to show figures to back his claims; and in an article in The Lancet in 1992 he drew on epidemiological research and data of his own to claim that 20 to 30 grams of alcohol a day (about two to three standard glasses of wine) could reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack by 40 per cent. Wine protects the heart, he maintained, mainly by acting on platelets in the blood to prevent clotting.
Renaud is survived by a daughter.