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Can You Drink Your Way to Good Health?

November 14th, 2014

by Rachel Wilcox, PharmD student

Red wine is often thought to be a good source of antioxidants and is associated with heart health.1 Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in a variety of sources, including red wine, nuts, berries and dark chocolate.2 Antioxidants are believed to be important in either preventing or reducing heart disease, cancer, the effects of aging and increasing the body’s resistance to stress.3,4 Resveratrol acts to rid the body of harmful toxins and some evidence shows that resveratrol may play a role in slowing progression of cancer.2 One current popular antioxidant is Vitamin C, which is found in orange juice and has a daily-recommended intake of 90mg for adult males and 75mg for adult females.5 Although evidence of resveratrol’s benefits may not be as concrete as Vitamin C, resveratrol is gaining popularity in the public eye. In fact, some consumers in the US are going beyond just drinking wine for the supposed benefits of resveratrol and are spending about $30 million dollars each year on resveratrol supplements.1,6 A major problem concerning resveratrol is that there is no FDA approved recommendation for daily intake and current studies provide conflicting evidence about the benefits of this antioxidant.7

A recent article from CNN cites an observational study that investigated the effects of resveratrol on health outcomes such as heart disease, inflammation, cancer and mortality in 783 patients who were 65 years of age or older. 1,6 This study found that resveratrol in red wine was not associated with anti-cancer properties, reducing inflammation or improving heart disease.6 The researchers did note that a limitation of their study was in their sample size. Increasing the amount of patients studied might allow the researchers to find an association between resveratrol and health outcomes.6

There is conflicting evidence for the benefits of resveratrol. Some scientific studies found that resveratrol improved health outcomes while other studies found no benefit. One study looked at the relationship between resveratrol and its effect on protecting a second heart attack in humans. The study describes that resveratrol did thin the blood, which is important for prevention of secondary heart attacks.3 Resveratrol also possesses anti-cancer properties but this study only looked at resveratrol effects in rats and mice.2 On the other hand, several studies show that resveratrol does not live up to the hype. One study showed that resveratrol was only responsible for about less than 5% of the antioxidant activity in wine.4 In fact, their research shows that there was no significant difference in terms of antioxidant benefit between red wine and wine with 10 times the amount of resveratrol added.4 This information brings up an important question. If wine consumption may not provide enough resveratrol to see benefits, should resveratrol supplements be recommended instead? The bottom line answer is probably not. A recent publication from Harvard Medical School explains some of the concerns with resveratrol supplements. One major concern is that there is no safe and effective dose established for these supplements.7 Long-term safety is also an issue since studies have not evaluated what effects resveratrol has on the human body over time.7

Since there is so much conflicting evidence about the benefits of resveratrol and whether moderate portions of wine will even provide the needed amount of resveratrol, I would not recommend drinking wine solely for antioxidant effects of resveratrol. It is also important to weigh the potential benefits of drinking alcohol against any negative consequences. The U.S. health department guidelines strongly recommend that women do not consume more than 1 alcoholic drink per day, and that men consume no more than 2 alcoholic drinks a day.8 Overconsumption of wine and other alcohol can cause liver damage as lead to other serious health issues. Remembering to consume alcohol responsibly and within the recommended guidelines is important to reduce the chances of negative consequences. While alcohol consumption does have drawbacks, it is important to note wine contains many other antioxidants that may be beneficial. I encourage wine enthusiasts and other curious individuals to do more research on different types of antioxidants wine provides and the associated health benefits. One study did find that the health benefits of wine were attributed to many different antioxidant compounds rather than a single compound.4 I also do not recommend taking resveratrol supplements because there may be more effective products on the market with stronger scientific evidence to support the use, such as Vitamin C. What do you think, would you consider taking a resveratrol supplement? What antioxidant supplements have you tried and why?

References

  1. Hudson W. Antioxidant in red wine has no benefit at low doses. CNN. http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/12/antioxidant-in-red-wine-has-no-benefit-at-low-doses/. Accessed October 1, 2014.
  1. Murtaza G, Latif U, Najam-Ul-Haq M, et al. Resveratrol: An active natural compound in red wines for health. Journal of Food & Drug Analysis. 2013;21(1):1-12. Accessed October 2, 2014
  1. Das DK, Mukherjee S, Ray D. Resveratrol and red wine, healthy heart and longevity. Heart Fail Rev. 2010;15(5):467-477. Accessed October 1, 2014.
  1. Xiang LM, Xiao LY, Wang YH, Li HF, Huang ZB, He XJ. Health benefits of wine: Don’t expect resveratrol too much. Food Chem. 2014;156:258-263. Accessed October 2, 2014
  1. Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin C. National Institute of Health. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer. Updated June 24, 2011. Accessed October 21, 2014.
  1. Semba R, Ferrucci L, Andres-Lacueva C, et al. Resveratrol levels and all-cause mortality in older community-dwelling adults. JAMA Internal Medicine [serial online]. July 2014;174(7):1077-1084. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 1, 2014.
  1. Can drinking wine really promote longevity? recent evidence shows the antioxidant resveratrol in wine does not offer a health boost. Harv Health Lett. 2014;39(11):5-5. Accessed October 2, 2014.
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Public Health. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#standDrink. Updated March 14, 2014. Accessed November 9, 2014.

 

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4 Responses to “Can You Drink Your Way to Good Health?”

  1. Kristin Lessig Says:

    I did not realize that resveratrol was such a popular supplement. I have heard that it is a beneficial antioxidant found in wine, but I did not realize that the amount of resveratrol was not necessarily high enough to produce a beneficial effect. After reading your article, I agree with your recommendation to not use wine as a resveratrol supplement. Since alcohol can have so many other side effects if used in excess, the other sources of resveratrol that you mentioned, such as the berries and nuts, are a much safer and healthier route to obtain the antioxidant.

  2. Tyler Michael Says:

    This article makes me wonder if there are other chemicals in wine that are providing wine with the supposed benefits it has. Since resveratrol seems to not be that effective as an antioxidant, there may be some other things in wine that need to be studied.

  3. Ruth Choi Says:

    Great job on your article Rachel! I was really surprised by how popular resveratrol supplements are. However, I would not take them because, like you stated, there are better studied supplements out there such as vitamin C. I have actually taken vitamin C supplements but not for any particular reason. I also did not take them regularly.

  4. Stephen Yeboah Says:

    Rachel, I have not tried any resveratrol supplements before and will not attempt it. Neither will I recommend it for the just simple meaning that the safety and the effectiveness of resveratrol according to your article, have not been proven. Also you mentioned in your article that there is no safe and effective standard dose for resveratrol meaning it has the tendency to be abused. I agree with you that if there are other antioxidant sources like vitamin C which have been scientifically proven to be effective, that should be prefered to resveratrol supplements. Those who still want to use resveratrol should be counseled to refrain from consuming a lot of alcohol.

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