Brandy can ward off heartattacks
Armagnac brandy that is often derided as the poor cousin of Cognac has been found to possess amazing health enhancing qualities.
Research has shown that the famous drink from the south west of France helps prevent heart disease and battles obesity.
Boffins at Bordeaux University showed that a moderate daily dose of Armagnac - France's oldest eau-de-vie - could lengthen life.
People who live in the Gascony area of France where Armagnac is made live five years longer than average in French, despite puffing on cigarettes all day.
Armagnac is distilled in a unique way and is aged in oak casks - and it is that combination which is thought to produce its health enhancing make-up.
Experiments have shown that a modest dose of Armagnac each day could reduce the likelihood of heart disease, and even fight the flab.
Professor Nicholas Moore from the University of Bordeaux said he began experimenting with the drink because of the low incidence of heart disease in the Gascony region.
He 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-alcolised 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 centilitres 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.
"What we are trying to do now is identify and extract the active component.
"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.
"We also showed that the longer the Armagnac is aged the more it loses its anti-platelet qualities. The best age is between five and ten years.
"The longer it sits in the oak casks above ten years the bigger the molecules get and the less effective they become at batling platelets.
"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 health benefits don't required the alcohol and it is important that 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."
Amanda Garnham, from the Bureau National Interprofessional de L'Armagnac, said: "Originally Armagnac was a medicine and people have known here about its health benefits for centuries.
"It is good to have that anecdotal evidence proven in a laboratory.
"It seems that Armagnac does indeed help the heart, guards against thrombosis and now it looks as if it helps keep you thin.
"It can be made form ten types of grapes so there is a lot of variety and there is an Armagnac for everybody.
"It is not just a drink for men either, women drink it just as much.
"Here in the Gascony region the old boys still work out in the fields, smoke like chimneys and always have just a small amount of Armagnac each day.
"The research seems to suggest that it is not the alcohol that is the reason, but either the oak casks or the vine itself."
Even in the 14th century, the benefits of Armagnac were written down and in 1313 Prior Vital Dufor, a Cardinal, claimed it had 40 virtues.
A translation 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.
"It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility.
"And when retained in the mouth, it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit, if someone timid from time to time himself permits."