Drinkers the world over have been thrilled by the notion that resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, might be some kind of anti-aging powerhouse.
The supposed wonder substance can make perilously chubby lab rats live as long as their slim counterparts, protect them from cancers and reduce their risk of dying from a high-calorie diet. It can lengthen the life of certain fish while warding off brain decay and improving the creatures’ swimming chops.
Which may sound very alluring for those of us who’d like to think that sipping Pinot Noir while relaxing on a couch counts as doing something healthful.
But does what goes for mice and fish go for people too? Well, nobody yet has divided us into two groups, given one group resveratrol, the other a placebo, then checked several decades later to see how long we all lived. But results from a few small human trials show a lot of potential.
A study of 11 obese men, for instance, found that administering 150 milligrams of resveratrol a day for 30 days mimicked the effects of calorie restriction, which has been shown to increase life span.
Another study of 40 patients who’d had heart attacks demonstrated improved cardiac function after participants took 10 milligrams of resveratrol a day for three months.
Still more research has shown that people who took the substance in varying amounts were better able to control their blood sugar.
But here’s the catch: To get the doses of resveratrol used in these studies, you’d have to drink between two and 100 bottles of wine a day. “I definitely don’t recommend that,” says Dr. Jill Crandall, director of the Diabetes Clinical Trial Unit at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She’s not a fan of resveratrol supplements either: “The reliability of suppliers and purity of preparations is not very regulated,” she says.
Still, studies do show that a glass or so of red wine a day may be good for the heart (which is why people started looking at the qualities of its ingredients to begin with). “There are many things in red wine that are beneficial to health,” says Joseph Baur, assistant professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania. The tricky part, he says, is figuring out how much credit each substance is due and how it does what it does. In the meantime, raise your glass — in moderation, of course.