Last month a small study of 27 men in their 60s got national attention. The author of the study, a doctoral student, gave some of the men 250 milligrams of a resveratrol supplement and the other half got a placebo. The men were all healthy but not physically active. The men were put through a rigorous exercise program for 8 weeks. At the end of the study all the men showed improvements in physical fitness but the men not getting the resveratrol supplement showed greater improvement in fitness and blood lipid levels. The media reported that resveratrol “negated” exercise benefits and started the worried well wondering if they should toss their expensive resveratrol supplements in the trash and stop drinking red wine.
Resveratrol is a polyphenolic compound found in the skin of red grapes, berries, grape juice, pistachios and peanuts. The compound has antioxidant properties, reduces inflammation, initiates programmed cell death (a good thing in cancer prevention), improves nerve function and improves insulin sensitivity. All of these changes are good for human health but the problem is that most of the studies on resveratrol were done in animals or test tubes; very few studies were conducted in humans and no long term studies have been done for benefits or safety. For example, mice got anywhere from 22-400 milligrams of resveratrol per kilogram of body weight….far more than we would get in supplement form. And red wine, has about 1-2 milligrams PER BOTTLE of wine, according to ConsumerLab.com
So, even though evidence is slim for the benefits of resveratrol supplements on human health that hasn’t stopped the flood of supplements marketed to seniors. Dr. Oz has even blessed resveratrol as one of the “4 supplements for a longer life.” So, now, based on one small study, resveratrol is bad?
Not so fast, resveratrol is found in many healthy foods and we should all be consuming berries, grapes, and nuts as part of a healthy diet. Red wine, in moderation, and consumed with a meal, has heart health benefits beyond resveratrol. But, that small study did remind us that supplements are not thoroughly evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration for effectiveness or safety….let the buyer beware! Don’t believe the Internet supplement sales hype and stay healthy the old fashioned way….exercise and eat well. And, enjoy a glass of red wine if you drink alcohol without worry that you will get “too much” resveratrol.