Red Wine's Buzzy Nutrient May Not Be As Healthy As We Thought

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Wine_2_RockieNolanPhotographed By Rockie Nolan.
Any casual romp around the Internet will show you that what we think we know about nutrition is often based purely on hype and speculation. It usually happens like this: Scientists conduct a study that might theoretically suggest one thing, which is then blown up and reworded in story after story until we all think that the microwaves in our cell phones are slowly roasting our brains. The hard part, of course, is that we'd really love for many of these headlines to be true. Take red wine, for instance. There's an endless rotation of stories on science "proving" that it's the secret to sustained wellness. And, to be fair, there's actually a lot of research to back up that claim.

A comprehensive survey in 2011 found that resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red wine, chocolate, and berries, might have "anti-aging, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties." Further studies suggest the compound might protect against strokes, heart disease, and diabetes. Not surprisingly, we've all but taken that as a mandate to knock back a glass or two on the daily. But, an interesting new study published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine warns that all those purported health benefits might just be wishful thinking.

In order to test whether red wine — and specifically resveratrol — actually imbues significant health effects, Johns Hopkins researchers studied 783 elderly residents of two small villages in the Chianti region of Italy, where locals are presumed to drink red wine regularly. In the nine-year study, the scientists tested the subjects' urine for resveratrol metabolites (small molecules that are left behind after the compound is broken down by the body). At the end of the nine years, 268 of the subjects had died; researchers crunched the numbers to see whether high levels of resveratrol had any protective effect. After controlling for possible contributing factors, like age and gender, the team found that resveratrol was not associated with decreased risk of death by any cause, including heart disease and cancer.

That's not to say that dark chocolate, berries, and red wine don't reduce inflammation or protect the heart for some people — indeed, other studies have found that they do. But, a closer look might reveal that other polyphenols or substances within those foods could be responsible for positive side effects. It's possible that resveratrol, in being hailed as the reason red wine can make people live longer, was nothing more than a red herring. (Science Daily)