The purported health benefits of wine are most often, but not completely, attributed to resveratrol.  It may be largely responsible for answering the “French Paradox” and is certainly advertised heavily as such.  You see, the French enjoy a high saturated fat diet which is linked to heart disease and some cancers. Yet their heart disease rate is fairly low. But they also consume red wine liberally. In fact they have one of the higher per capita consumptions on Earth.  But is it that simple?  Is there enough resveratrol in wine to cause this health benefit?  Furthermore, is Dr.Oz and others right in promoting resveratrol supplements, which are at much higher doses, as much as they do?

From laboratory studies we know that resveratrol protects circulation and heart function by inhibiting platelet aggregation, which can cause dangerous clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes.  It is also an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. Resveratrol  can also fight cancer within the laboratory during all three critical stages of cancer development, specifically initiation, promotion, and progression.  However, these effects are found at relatively high doses of resveratrol achievable in the laboratory.

Resveratrol Animal vs Human Research

A seminal animal research paper came out in 2008 which found that aging in mice can be slowed when supplemented with resveratrol at doses higher than those found in wine.  The study concluded that resveratrol supplementation mimics caloric restriction, something that we know retards the aging process significantly.  On the safety side of things,  human studies do confirm the safety of resveratrol in highly concentrated forms. Studies including those at Marywood University, University of Leicester (UK) and University of Michigan, etc. all found no significant side effects and no evidence of toxicity.  Keep in mind that these are short term studies, and long term effects are completely unknown.  In fact, at least one study suggests that high dose resveratrol supplementation may even have carcinogenic properties.

We know that it seems safe at higher doses, but what about the optimal supplement levels for human health benefits?  While there is some research data on this, the truth remains unestablished.   Human trials with any definite findings have used resveratrol doses equivalent to 667 bottles of red wine (1gm of resveratrol).  So, it may be tempting to conclude that “more is better”, but there is more to this story.

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Manufacturers often compare the amount of resveratrol to red wine equivalents, which is something that people can fundamentally comprehend.  The doses in supplements can exceed 500mg per capsule.  But one has to consider that the amount of resveratrol found in wine is rather low at less than 1mg per glass of wine.  It ranges from 0.1-14.3 mg/liter of wine.  So, if wine is the answer to the French Paradox health benefit, is a few mg a day of resveratrol enough to explain it?  Many experts think not. However, the following video offers some interesting perspectives from a neuro-surgeon turned wine-maker.  It also offers up some explanations about which red wines might offer the most benefit.  Hint: it is not merlot, which is the most popular of red varietals.

As noted in the video above, resveratrol is not the only compound in wine that can offer health benefits.  Polyphenols such as procyanidins are present in wine in quantities that seem to be high enough to be significant.  For example 200-300mg can lower blood pressure, and that amount can be found in a glass or two of certain red wines.  In most cases, the wines with highest concentrations are found in Europe.  On the other hand, keep in mind that you can get 200mg of procyanidin by eating a Red Delicious apple or other foods.

With the above in mind, it is quite possible if not probable that there are multiple substances found in wine that work with each other to offer a more complete health benefit.  This goes back to the age old question of trying to split out the best substances in foodstuffs (in an attempt to get maximal effect) at the risk of losing the synergistic benefits of interaction between micro-nutrients. Trying to put all eggs in one basket is often the wrong answer, as it may be here. Resveratrol may be just one nutrient of many contained in wine, the combination of which provides the best overall health benefit.

Keep in mind that the French Paradox can be related to completely different factors like a higher consumption of Vitamin K2 in their diet,  lack of hydrogenated and trans fats and other factors.  But we are considering the possibility of wine components here, so we’ll limit our comments to that in this article.

Bottom line, after reviewing over 20,000 compounds in wine fewer than 20 seem to have major health benefits and anti-aging properties.  This is mainly from a study out of Harvard  which showed that resveratrol is but one of these (dosage question aside).  Others include quercetin and multiple other polyphenols.

What is the take-away message?  Adding some red wine varietals to your diet in moderate amounts may be beneficial to your health. But think twice before shelling out a lot of money for high dose resveratrol supplements with uncertain benefit (compared to many other anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants) and incompletely defined long term risk.

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