Skip to main content

of mice, men and merlot


The latest round of enthusiastic news coverage about a study proclaiming that red wine improves balance and prevents falls in the elderly raises some important questions. First a summary of the study, which was presented at a recent conference but not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal: Lab mice fed high doses of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant from red wine, maintained better balance and mobility as they aged. Their nerve tissue resisted the effects of age, and follow-up studies showed that the neurons treated with resveratrol survived toxic doses of a brain chemical called dopamine, which causes stress similar to aging leading to cell death.

The implications of the study were widely interpreted to mean that resveratrol, and by extension red wine, could improve mobility in seniors and prevent fall that can lead to hip fractures and other problems. There are a few really important caveats here though: first, the doses of resveratrol were extraordinarily high, not achievable with wine consumption. Secondly, it isn’t known if equivalent levels are even achievable with oral consumption by humans. Mice are not people, and there are a lot of things that seem like they should work based on mouse studies that don’t pan out in human clinical trials. (An example is an anti-cancer drug called camptothecin, which kills human cancers when transplanted onto mice, but not so well in humans because it is inactivated by a protein in the bloodstream.) So as intriguing as the recent study is, it is not reasonable to presume that resveratrol or red wine would work in people.

There are some interesting lines of research pointing back to red wine though. For one, it is well-documented in several large population studies that wine drinkers maintain better brain function in later years. And though it is tempting to credit resveratrol for the benefits of wine, other studies show that alcohol consumption in moderation is linked to better bone density.  Resveratrol does come into the picture when looking at muscle mass and athletic performance, which may favorably impact mobility in seniors.

In the end it comes down to that same simple things that I have been espousing here all along: Wine drinking is good for prevention of many of the deleterious effects of age. Resveratrol is interesting but does not by itself explain the benefits of moderate drinking. And studies on mice mean little without follow-up clinical studies on humans.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I read something once that said resveratrol has many benefits that haven't even been discovered. I would be interested to see results if a human study were to be conducted regarding mobility in seniors. Rats are biologically and chemically different than humans.

    -- Kristy @ Wine Logic


Post a Comment

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 …