Have a glass of red wine and live longer?
Sounds easy—and that sure would be a pleasant way to take an anti-aging remedy. A Harvard study found that when mice were supplemented with resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red grapes, and then fed a diet that could be equated with daily meals of coconut cream pie, the mice showed a striking increase in survival and health. The gluttonous, obese mice outlived normal-weight mice fed a standard healthy diet.
Does this mean drinking red wine can do the same for humans? Many headlines said just that —drink red wine, eat a high fat diet, and live longer. Before we make this leap of logic and start living on wine and dessert, we need to take a closer look at this study.
First, we are not mice. Although animal experiments help us determine possible avenues for further human research, the results may not necessarily apply to people. Still, resveratrol has increased the lifespan of worms, yeast, fruit flies and now mice, so the potential for human success is possible.
Second, it’s possible that resveratrol is only protective if eaten with a high fat diet. That may sound silly at first, but food elements often work in synergy with particular other compounds. What works with a high fat intake may not work with a high protein or high carbohydrate intake.
Lastly but probably the most importantly, the mice in the study were fed daily the amount of resveratrol found in about 300 glasses of red wine. Humans who want to mimic the results would have to get their resveratrol through supplements, not wine. That does cut down on the fun of this whole idea.
Let’s take a step back. Polyphenols are compounds naturally occurring in foods, especially highly colored foods like blueberries, plums, and grapes. Resveratrol is the most important polyphenol found in red grapes which are made into red wine. Grapes actually produce resveratrol to protect themselves against fungal invasion.
The health-promoting properties of resveratrol—cardio-protective, anti-cancer, as well as protecting the liver against failure—have been known for a number of years. Resveratrol can protect the liver against damage from a high fat diet. Men who drink 4 or more glasses of red wine a week reduce their risk of prostate cancer by more than 50%. And, a daily glass of red wine appears to lower the incidence of heart disease by reducing markers of inflammation implicated in heart disease.
But, we know little about resveratrol and longevity. One glass of red wine contains only 0.3% of the resveratrol dose given to those long-living, gluttonous mice. We don’t know if the super-high doses would be safe for humans, especially if taken over years or possibly decades.
Where does this leave you? Depending on that glass of red wine to balance out a supersized burger and a side of fries is probably wishful thinking at this point. Studies, however, have shown that wine drinkers are more likely to routinely practice good health habits. So, adding a daily glass of red wine to your otherwise healthy lifestyle may in fact add one more health-promoting element to your life.