Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New study on resveratrol supplements widely misinterpreted

Quote: “A new study is hinting women may want to think twice before picking up a glass and toasting to their health. Health Magazine is reporting that researchers from Washington University School of Medicine have discovered that healthy middle-aged women do not benefit from taking resveratrol supplements.” (from Fox News)

Am I the only one who sees that those two sentences do not make sense? What the study showed is that taking a particular supplement does no good, not that drinking red wine is bad. Seems pretty simple to me but it points out a common misconception that needs to be dispelled (again). The thinking goes like this: We know from a multitude of studies that red wine consumption in moderation is linked to a long list of health benefits. These include lower rates of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, to name just a few. But alcohol is of course bad for you, so the whole benefit must be from something else.

Enter resveratrol, the miracle molecule (as I dubbed it in my book Age Gets Better with Wine: New Science for a Healthier, Better, and Longer Life.)  In lab studies, resveratrol seems to do just about everything; it’s a potent antioxidant, reverses many of the harmful effects of a high-fat diet, prevents cancer, you name it. Because resveratrol comes from the skins of red wine grapes, it must therefore be the reason for wine’s health benefits. So just take resveratrol in a pill and skip the alcohol from red wine, and you’re all set. Resveratrol supplement makers proudly proclaim “all the benefits of wine without the alcohol” and pitch it as the next breakthrough weight loss secret and fountain of youth.
But there are fatal flaws with this reasoning. Most importantly, red wine doesn’t have enough resveratrol in it to explain the health benefits of drinking. The researchers in the study cited above acknowledge that the doses were equivalent to drinking gallons of wine a day, and still no measurable benefit. Another reason is that alcohol is not entirely deleterious, and in small amounts – levels that correspond to a glass or two of red wine with dinner – it is probably beneficial when all factors are taken into consideration.