1. Religion & Spirituality
Elizabeth Reninger

Hu Zhang, Resveratrol & The French Paradox

By May 3, 2013

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The French Paradox

At some point, western scientists began to wonder why French people -- whose diets are notoriously rich -- exhibit a generally-low incidence of heart disease. And a piece of the puzzle seems to be that red wine, which is consumed regularly with their meals, contains (via the skins of the grapes) a chemical component called resveratrol, which supports cardiovascular health, in all kinds of excellent ways.

Resveratrol & Hu Zhang

Does this mean that we should all start drinking large quantities of red wine? Well, not necessarily ....

As is pointed out in this comprehensive overview (which includes an exhaustive listing of references):

"Resveratrol is most known as an ingredient found in the skin of dark grapes, but the weed Polygonum cuspidaturn is also a very good source of resveratrol. A root extract of Polygonum has been used for a long time in Asian countries to treat headaches, amenorrhea, dysentery, dermatitis, gonorrhea, infections, inflammatory and allergic responses, asthma, arthritis, hepatitis, trauma, hyperlipidemia and arteriosclerosis, hypertension, as well as cancer."

In other words, the skin of dark grapes is not the only, or necessarily the best, dietary source of resveratrol. Primary among alternatives is Polygonum cuspidaturn -- the botanical name for what is more commonly referred to, in English, as Giant Knotweed (notorious as a hard-to-eradicate invader), and what in Chinese herbal medicine is known (in a much more positive light) as Hu Zhang.

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Quirky references to Paris Hilton aside, the author of this essay offers an interesting glimpse into the effects of resveratrol on human mitochondria: "the key players in the production of chemical energy in your cells." His concluding paragraph:

"Which reminds us, unfortunately, of Paris Hilton, who is famous for being famous and especially, of course, for being famous in jail. Resveratrol, on the other hand, is a molecular celebrity for doing useful things, such as . . . oh yes, improving our health and prolonging our life."

[For an interesting discussion of mitochondria in relation to qigong practice, check out this interview with Buddhist/Taoist practitioner Oscar Hsu.]

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In a more-cautiously-optimistic-bordering-on-cynical look at resveratrol, another writer points out that:

"Virtually all of the positive studies on resveratrol have come from cultures of cells or laboratory experiments with yeast, roundworms, fruit flies, the short-lived turquoise killifish, or mice."

In other words, long-term scientific studies of the effects of resveratrol supplementation on human beings have yet to be completed. Nevertheless, there do seem to be some good reasons to be hopeful, based upon more tangential and anecdotal "western" evidence -- as well as on the long history of Hu Zhang as an esteemed member of the Chinese Materia Medica.

And it's worth pointing out here that the strength of western science -- viz. its capacity to isolate and analyze -- can be and often is, at the same time, its weakness. The practice of isolating individual components (e.g. resveratrol) which are found naturally as part of a larger system (e.g. in red wine or Hu Zhang), tends toward an undervaluation of context, i.e. toward overlooking the importance of all variety of alchemical interconnections. In other words, such methods focus on the particle, rather than the field within which (and in response to whose contours) the particle manifests and moves.

It's of course fine to experiment on your own, with resveratrol supplements -- if so drawn, via intuition and/or curiosity. Even more excellent, however, would be to consult with a Chinese herbalist, who could offer Hu Zhang in the context of an herbal formula designed specifically to address your overall constitution and whatever patterns of imbalance happen, at that time, to be manifesting.

Or: enjoy a glass of red wine, with a delicious meal, in the company of friends, on a warm spring evening, somewhere in the south of France ..... every now and again :)

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