What’s Up With Resveratrol?

The health halo above your beloved cabernet is looking a little dim these days: A diet rich in resveratrol—the anti-inflammatory compound found in red wine, dark chocolate, grapes, and peanuts—won’t actually reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or death, says a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers analyzed urine samples from nearly 800 adults over the age of 65 from (where else?) the Chianti region of Italy. After controlling for other factors, it turns out people with the highest concentration of resveratrol metabolites (a marker for having consumed a lot of resveratrol-rich foods) in their urine were no less likely to have died from any cause than the people without any metabolites.

Decades of research suggests that resveratrol has anti-inflammatory properties, plus the ability to protect cells against oxidative stress and prevent fat buildup in vital organs, says Jay Chung, a senior investigator with the National Lung, Heart and Blood Institute’s Laboratory of Obesity and Aging Research, who was not involved with the JAMA study. If these benefits do apply to humans at all, Chung isn’t surprised that our diet doesn’t seem to cut it. “The dose of resveratrol required to see results in mice is quite high, and can’t be reached through eating foods,” he says. “We don’t really know at what dose resveratrol has beneficial effects, if any, in humans.” To put it into perspective, one glass of red wine contains about 1mg of resveratrol, while supplements can include up to 500mg of the antioxidant in each tablet.

The research, led by Richard Semba of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, didn’t include people who used resveratrol supplements. Semba notes that despite his findings, we shouldn’t discount resveratrol-rich foods as healthy options. “Foods like red wine and chocolate are very complex and contain many different polyphenols and antioxidants,” he says. “Now it simply appears that we cannot pin the health benefits on resveratrol alone, which is only one of dozens of these substances in foods.”

In short, the resveratrol in your wine isn’t going to make you live forever. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop claiming you’re ordering the pinot for its health benefits. Plenty of research shows that moderate drinkers (i.e., those who stick to one daily serving of alcohol) have a lower risk of heart trouble and death from any cause, including certain cancers. So while you can’t toast to resveratrol, we’re sure you can think of something else worth sipping for.



What’s Up With Resveratrol?