Thursday, January 15, 2009

Is resveratrol the answer?

It is hard to aviod hearing the hype about resveratrol, the polyphenol from wine to which so many of its healthful properties attribute. The body of research is indeed truly impressive: anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, a whole range of anti-aging activities have been identified in laboratory studies. One company, Sirtris, derived compounds from reseveratrol that had such interesting capabilities that they were acquired by GlaxoSmith Kline in 2008 for more than $700 million. Resveratrol supplements are available widely over the internet and most grocery stores, and now we hear about a genetically engineered beer with resveratrol!
There are two problems with the assumption that resveratrol is the key to wine's health benefits. First, there are a number of other compounds in wine, such as quercetin, that also have interesting data to support theri potential importance, and it may be that it is the interactions of all of the various things in wine that really makes it work. Secondly and most important though is that to date there are no published studies of resveratrol supplementation in human subjects! From a strictly scientific point of view, the effects are unkown. It is all still extrapolation from mice and cell cultures in petri dishes, at least so far. What we do know is that wine drinkers (not grape juice drinkers) are healthier and live longer, and resveratrol may be only a small part of the story.

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