Is there any benefit to resveratrol? If so, should we get it from wine, grapes, peanuts, or supplements?

“Alcohol is a neurotoxin which can cause brain damage…[and] can cause cancer,” so perhaps the “consumption of alcohol…cannot be considered a healthy lifestyle choice” since it’s an addictive carcinogen. Cancer is only killer number two, though. Killer number one is heart disease, so what about the “French paradox”? Doesn’t moderate drinking protect against cardiovascular disease? I discuss this in my video Flashback Friday: The Best Source of Resveratrol.

As I’ve explained before, apparently there is no French paradox. It seems to have all just been a scam. That’s what started the whole “resveratrol fiasco,” though. During an episode on “60 Minutes,” it was suggested the red wine component resveratrol may account for the French paradox, and research took off. Even after it turned out there was no French paradox, research continued unabated, culminating in more than 10,000 scientific publications to date.

What did researchers find? “After more than 20 years of well-funded research, resveratrol has no proven human activity.” “One salient theme that consistently arises throughout this voluminous body of work underscores the fact that data from human studies regarding any biological effects of resveratrol is sorely lacking, despite its popularity as an over-the-counter nutritional supplement.” In fact, “the hype in the popular media regarding resveratrol…may indeed turn out to be nothing more than a slight-of-hand marketing device using…non-human research as a cover.” 

As you can see at 1:36 in my video, some studies are based on laboratory animal studies at massive doses—tens of milligrams of resveratrol per pound. If you do the math, this is how “various ‘experts’ claim that a daily dosage of 1 g/d is effective for treatments of diverse disorders in humans.” So how much red wine do you have to drink to get a gram of resveratrol a day? Why, just 5,000 cups a day. Not a fan of red wine? Don’t worry. You can just have a couple thousand gallons of white wine a day, 5,000 pounds of apples or grapes, 50,000 pounds of peanuts, a couple thousand pounds of chocolate, or nearly a million bottles of beer.

A million bottles of beer on the wall. A million bottles of beer. Take one down and pass it around, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall…. 

It doesn’t help matters when a “leading researcher on the beneficial properties of resveratrol…has been found guilty of 145 counts of fabrication and falsification of data,” throwing the whole field into turmoil. “Wine is good for those…who sell it!”

The resveratrol fiasco is not the only time dietary supplements have failed to fulfill their promise. “Notable examples” include beta-carotene pills and fish oil capsules. Studies in the 1990s showed taking beta-carotene in pill form actually increased cancer risk, and, in 2013, the thinking shifted on fish oil supplements from “No Proof of Effectiveness” to “Proof of No Effectiveness.” “The main lesson we should learn is that what makes biological sense and works in test tubes and animals does not always operate in humans.” 

“Resveratrol is one of approximately 25,000 components identified from food to date,” after all. Thinking in terms of whole foods “may be a better approach for health and disease prevention.” Instead of consuming just one chemical in wine extracted from grapes, why not eat the whole grape? “[F]or the prevention of diseases, the [whole] dietary grape seems to be the best-case scenario.”

This is part of a four-part series, which includes my videos:

Can Alcohol Cause Cancer? 
Is It Better to Drink a Little Alcohol Than None at All?
Do Any Benefits of Alcohol Outweigh the Risks?

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Alcohol is a neurotoxin that can cause brain damage and our number-two killer, cancer, but what about the so-called French paradox of moderate drinking protecting against cardiovascular disease, our number one killer?
During an episode of the television show “60 Minutes,” it was suggested that resveratrol, a component in red wine, may account for the French paradox, but it has been dismissed as a hoax. Despite that, research has continued and more than 10,000 scientific papers have been published to date.
Resveratrol has been found to have “no proven human activity,” and “the hype in the popular media regarding resveratrol…may indeed turn out to be nothing more than a slight-of-hand marketing device using…non-human research as a cover.”
Indeed, some animal studies used massive doses of tens of milligrams of resveratrol per pound to claim that a daily dosage of 1 g/d is an effective treatment of diverse human disorders, but you would need to drink 5,000 cups of red wine to get a single gram of resveratrol.
Other dietary supplements have also been found unable to fulfill their promises, such as beta-carotene pills and fish oil capsules. Beta-carotene in pill form has been found to increase, not decrease, cancer risk, and there is no proof of effectiveness with fish oil supplements.
“The main lesson we should learn is that what makes biological sense and works in test tubes and animals does not always operate in humans.”
Rather than consuming just one chemical in wine extracted from grapes, why not eat the whole grape?

Surprised about the French paradox? Learn more in What Explains the French Paradox?.

Can resveratrol supplements do more harm than good? Check out Resveratrol Impairs Exercise Benefits.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

2019: Evidence-Based Weight Loss
2016: How Not to Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers
2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet
2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food
2013: More Than an Apple a Day
2012: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death