Tuesday, December 8, 2015
When they come out with a coffee infused with resveratrol, that’s how you know it’s just gone too far. Vera Roasting Company just announced their “CoffVee” blend, intended to bring “the heart-healthy benefits of red wine” to coffee. Like makers of resveratrol supplements, the idea is based on the claim that it is possible for consumers “to enjoy the heart-healthy benefits of a glass of red wine” with every cup, “minus the alcohol.” If only it were so simple.
Here’s why infusing coffee with resveratrol is a bad idea:
Coffee is already a heart-healthy drink. Coffee contains some very potent natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, so the addition of resveratrol is unnecessary. A study just out last month evaluated overall causes of mortality in a large population found that coffee consumption was related to lower chances of dying from heart disease, as well as respiratory diseases, diabetes, and pneumonia. The researchers attributed this to improved insulin sensitivity and other benefits. A study last year looking at heart disease specifically found a J-shaped curve for coffee consumption similar to that for wine drinkers: Moderate consumption (3-5 cups per day) had a lower risk than non-consumption or high consumption.
Part of the heart health benefits of red wine are attributable to the alcohol. The only thing that has all the heart health benefits of a glass of red wine is a glass of red wine. Alcohol in the right amounts improves the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio, which translates to lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Although the effect is more pronounced for wine, drinkers outlive abstainers on average. (Similarly, in coffee, some of the health benefits are attributable to caffeine.)
There isn’t enough resveratrol in a glass of wine to explain all of the benefits of wine consumption. Although there are more than 8,000 articles on resveratrol published in the biomedical literature, it is not clear that it plays as big a role in wine’s health benefits as was thought. It does provide a mechanistic explanation for many of the specific benefits associated with wine such as lowered Alzheimer’s risk, diabetes, and cancer, but in general the doses required to demonstrate the effect experimentally far exceed what you get in a glass (or a few dozen glasses) of wine. Ergo, it can’t be resveratrol alone that explains the French Paradox.
There are some interesting parallels with wine and coffee. Both contain potent antioxidants and demonstrate a J-shaped curve. Sugar in coffee largely negates the health benefit, and that is also a reason why wine consumption is not the same as drinking grape juice. Processing the sugars into alcohol produces a healthier drink. For me, I’ll stick to regular coffee in the morning and wine with dinner.