Despite a diet that should fur up their arteries faster than you can say camembert, the French have healthier hearts than most.
Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in Gascony, where hearty Gascons consume prodigious quantities of foie gras while topping France’s longevity charts—in some measure thanks to Armagnac.
Distilled from the 14th century onwards, Armagnac spirit is probably the oldest premium spirit in the world. While much mystery remains regarding the early history of Armagnac, it is clear that it was developed for medicinal purposes.
A treatise dated in 1441 describes more than 30 medicinal uses of Armagnac and another from 1310, in a manuscript written in Latin, "The book on how to keep healthy and remain in good form" a medical man from Eauze, Master Vital Dufour referred to it, praising it with many virtues. A translation of the manuscript stated: "It makes disappear redness and burning of the eyes, and stops them from tearing; it cures hepatitis, sober consumption adhering.
"It cures gout, cankers and fistula by ingestion, restores the paralysed member by massage and heals wounds of the skin by application. And when retained in the mouth, it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit, if someone timid from time to time himself permits. It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility.
This promise of longevity can be confirmed by facts, since Gers, the county in France where Armagnac is mainly produced and consumed, people live longest.
In recent years there has been increasing attention to the so—called "French Paradox," referring to the fact that although the French consume far more saturated animal fat than Americans do, they experience much lower rates of coronary heart disease than Americans.
Numerous worldwide studies have documented the fact that moderate drinkers of alcoholic beverages, particularly red wine, have a lower incidence of a variety of diseases than nondrinkers. What is less well known is the fact that in Gers, where Armagnac consumption is the greatest has a coronary mortality rate that is much lower that the rest of France and a recent study by Professor Nicholas Moore, a researcher at the University of Bordeaux, documented that consuming Armagnac helped prevent blood clots.
Moore said: "The study started because in the south-west area of France there are some of the lowest cardio vascular disease rates in the world. Various theories have been put forward about why this should be; wine, Mediterranean diet and a stress-free life were all considered. And they might have some effect. But we thought that maybe Armagnac could be another reason. So we tested de-alcoholised Armagnac on human platelets in a test tube. The effects were that it had an anti-platelet effect and acted in a similar way to the anti-thrombosis drug Plavix. While platelets are required for clotting when the skin is broken, they can also lead to heart attacks when they clot in the wrong place."
"We tested it on rats and found that thrombosis decreased. So then we tested it on humans. Some volunteers had three centiliters of Armagnac a day, and the others had the same amount of Vodka, which was the same alcoholic strength. The positive effects were there on the humans who had Armagnac, which showed that small amounts daily will help prevent heart disease."
"Armagnac is distilled in a specific way and is aged in oak casks for years not months. It is likely to be this combination that produces the positive effects by changing the chemical make-up of the liquid."
"There are two types of clotting that platelets are involved with. The first is the adhesion to collagen which helps when the skin is broken, and that is normal. The second is the clotting that leads to heart attacks when the blood clots in the wrong place."
"Armagnac doesn't interfere with the first type of clotting, but is beneficial with the second type. And it is better than aspirin because it doesn't thin the blood."
"New research that we haven't yet published also shows that Armagnac might have other health benefits to do with obesity. Rats were shown to lose weight when given Armagnac. It reduced consumption and appeared to battle the food once it had been consumed.
"The best amount to have seems to be three centilitres a day. More than that could have bad effects. But in moderation, it could guard against blood clotting, possibly reduce obesity and lead to a longer life."
All these facts tend to prove that the French Paradox is above all an Armagnac Paradox. So don’t be afraid to order those second helpings of rich dishes, as long as you round off the meal with an Armagnac.