Skip to main content

The problem with resveratrol

We continue to hear a lot about resveratrol these days. If you follow news releases on wine and health topics (which I do so you don’t have to) it seems that all of the goodness of wine can be attributed to this miracle molecule from wine grape skins. It is a pretty compelling story when you look at all of the basic science research on the subject, which offers tantalizing prospects of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, even the common cold (see below). But there’s a problem.

To begin with, scientists first looked to wine-derived compounds because of all of the data showing a correlation between moderate drinking and lowered chances of having any of the above-mentioned diseases. When researchers discovered that resveratrol activates enzymes called sirtuins that extend lifespan in certain organisms, the door to a whole new area of scientific inquiry was opened. What resveratrol does in a Petri dish seemed to explain the benefits of drinking wine, and so now dozens of manufacturers are offering resveratrol supplements as a way to get wine’s goodness without the alcohol. So what’s the problem?

The thing is, there isn’t enough resveratrol in wine to explain why wine drinkers are so much healthier and live longer than teetotalers on average. It has been calculated that some 200 bottles would be required to get the daily dose required to cause the same effect in people as it does in lab rats. And, as we have pointed out here before, resveratrol isn’t very well absorbed after oral ingestion anyway. So clearly there must be something else going on. Several papers do offer a possible explanation: when resveratrol is given in combination with other wine polyphenols, the effects are often multiplied. And alcohol in the right amounts has specific heart-health benefits too.

A similar thing happened with vitamins. Their discovery a hundred years ago was the biggest advance in nutritional science of the 20th century, as I believe polyphenol science will be for the 21st. But when vitamins were extracted out their natural sources (usually fruits and vegetables) and given as supplements, no benefits in terms of age-related diseases were found. That bears repeating: No benefits to taking antioxidant vitamins, period. The same may turn out to be true for wine. So just eat your vegetables and drink your wine.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How globalization of drinking habits threatens the French paradox

It seems that the more studies we see on the relationship between wine and health, and the larger they are, the more contradictory the results. Headlines summarizing comprehensive international studies declare the French paradox dead, and all alcoholic beverages are equally detrimental. I think there is an overlooked explanation for this: over the past several decades, convergence of drinking patterns around the world has separated wine from its role as a daily part of a meal. Globalization has commoditized our views about drink, toppling it from its role as a culturally specific emblem. Global convergence of drinking There are several recent reports summarizing the trend,[i],[ii],[iii]and it applies for both developed and developing countries. Since the early 1960s, wine’s share of global alcohol consumption has more than halved, declining from 35% to 15%. Beer and spirits have taken up the slack, with beer gaining 42% and spirits adding 43%, both large gains. The bigger story howeve…

Wear red and DRINK red for women’s heart health

This Friday Feb 2nd is the annual “wear red” day in Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness for women’s heart health. Why only a day for the number one threat to women’s health? Women are 5 times more likely to succumb to heart disease than breast cancer, which gets a whole month (October.) Another contradiction is that the advice women hear about prevention of breast cancer is the opposite of what you can do to lower the risk of heart disease: a daily glass of wine. Even one drink a day raises your risk of breast cancer, we are told, ignoring the overriding benefits of wine on heart health. Drink red wine to live longer Here’s why I think women should also “drink red.” For starters, wine helps de-stress and celebrates life. Stress is a factor in heart disease, and if that were the only way wine helped it would be worth considering. But the medical evidence is also strong: a daily glass of red wine helps raise the HDL “good cholesterol” levels, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular p…

Which types of wine are the healthiest?

I am often asked after lecturing on the healthful properties of wine which type is best to drink. Since much of the discussion has to do with the polyphenol antioxidants from the skins and seeds of the grape, red wine is the first criterion since it is fermented with the whole grape rather than the pressed juice. This allows for extraction and concentration of these compounds, familiar ones being resveratrol and tannins. But beyond that, which varietals have the highest concentrations?


According to the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, “The best kind of wine is that which is pleasant to him that drinks it” but modern science expects more specifics. (The point of course is that if you have a wine that you enjoy you are more likely to drink regularly and therefore reap the benefits.) But there are several difficulties in singling out certain wines for their healthful properties. Which compounds to measure? Are we talking about heart health or the whole gamut? Is it the varietal of the …