Resveratrol is an important antioxidant for health and longevity. Usually found on grape skins, the wines with some of the highest amounts of resveratrol and polyphenols are the Cannonau grape from Sardinia (or other Grenache wines) and pinot noirs. Resveratrol is an antioxidant-like compound found in red wine, berries and peanuts. Much of the human research has used supplements that contain high levels of resveratrol.
That being said, don’t start drinking.
“But,” you might ask, “isn’t a glass of red wine a day supposed to be good for my heart?”
I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but the American Heart Association says, “If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you don’t drink, don’t start.” I completely agree with this statement. There are far more risks than benefits with alcohol use.
Alcohol consumption is associated with liver disease and certain cancers, especially colorectal cancer. Weight gain is also a problem because alcohol demands to be metabolized first, while the dinner you consumed earlier waits in line to Club Metabolism. Alcohol also can act as a hypoglycemic—causing you to eat more than you initially intended—which means the line to Club Metabolism gets even longer. It raises cortisol levels, is toxic to the brain, and there is always the possibility of dependence and addiction.
Heavy drinkers typically have high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides, both independent risk factors for heart disease, and chronically low levels of potassium and B vitamins—a recipe for depression and other mood disorders. Cardiologist Melissa Walton-Shirley was recently quoted in the Medscape article “Alcohol and CVD.” She said it best: “When one takes into account the cost of alcoholism on family life; drunk driving; and treatment for liver disease, atrial fibrillation, stroke, cancer, dementia, and cardiomyopathy, its romanticized reputation as a medicinal is definitely diminished.”
Now, did you know the medicinal dose of red wine is actually 3.5 to 5 ounces, two to three times a week? That’s 7 to 10 tablespoons of wine per glass. (Oh, yes it is!) In addition to resveratrol, the alcohol itself confers cardiovascular benefits by reducing platelet aggregation and fibrinogen, and providing some vasodilation of arteries. However, alcohol consumption itself should not be considered to be an essential part of a heart disease prevention program.
Several studies have suggested that drinking red wine can help slow down age-related cognitive decline. This may partly be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of resveratrol. It seems to interfere with protein fragments called beta-amyloids, which are crucial to forming the plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. While this research is intriguing, scientists still have questions about how well the human body is able to make use of supplemental resveratrol, which limits its immediate use as a supplement to protect the brain.
So, what’s the takeaway? I never advise teetotalers to start drinking red wine for the benefits of resveratrol. If you don’t drink, don’t start simply because you seek the antioxidant; taking supplemental resveratrol instead is a far healthier option, without any of the risks of alcohol consumption. But if you do indulge in a glass of pinot, just be sure you do so in moderation—that way, you’ll reap all the benefits the beverage has to offer, including resveratrol.
To your health!
Leyla Muedin, RD, CDN, is a clinical nutritionist and educator at the Hoffman Center in New York, specializing in the clinical application of diet and supplements for a wide range of medical problems. She lectures regularly at the Hoffman Center as well as professional conferences and corporate wellness programs.