Bioethics Blogs

Revisiting Resveratrol’s Health Claims

Photo of red wine and dark chocolate

Credit: Jill George, NIH

Over the past decade or so, a lot of us have been led to believe that certain indulgences—such as a glass of Pinot noir or a piece of dark chocolate—can actually be health-promoting. That’s because a number of studies had suggested that red wine, chocolate, and other foods containing the antioxidant resveratrol might lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other age-related maladies. But now comes word that a diet rich in resveratrol may not automatically translate into better health.

In a prospective study of nearly 800 people living in Italy, a team from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) found no significant differences in heart disease, cancer, or longevity between those who consumed a diet high in resveratrol and those who consumed very little [1].

Science’s fascination with resveratrol dates back to the early 1990’s, when researchers reported this paradox: the French eat a diet rich in butter, cheese, pork, and other foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, yet they have relatively low levels of coronary heart disease. Why?  It was hypothesized that the cardiovascular protection might have to do with something else the French love: red wine. A powerful antioxidant, called resveratrol, was eventually isolated from red wine, as well as cocoa, red grapes, and a variety of other berries and roots. After that, a steady stream of studies in cells and various animal models showed that resveratrol reduced inflammation and seemed to protect against the unhealthy effects of a high-fat diet [2,3,4].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.