Chocolate and Red Wine May Still Be Good for Us, but Probably Not Due to Resveratrol

If you have looked to health claims describing the benefits resveratrol, a compound found in choco­late and red wine, to justify your indulgences, you may need to rethink the role of these treats in your health plan. Recent research suggests that resve­ratrol may not be the ticket to youth and vitality that we once thought it was.

Beyond the mood-boosting benefits of a pleasurable treat, researchers and healthcare experts have long wondered whether there is something in the composi­tion of chocolate and red wine that improves our health. One widely accepted explanation has been resveratrol, a compound found in both that has been associated with improved health and longevity.

Resveratrol is a plant compound that occurs in red grape skin and cacao plants as well as berries and pea­nuts. Specifically, it’s a polyphenol, a compound credited with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are thought to help protect the body against cellular damage and thus reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

Plenty of us have been eager to accept the health claims surrounding resveratrol in red wine and choco­late, welcoming evidence that something we already enjoy might be doing our health some real good. But a 2014 study is trying to rain on our decadent parade, sug­gesting that resveratrol is likely doing nothing to measur­ably improve our health.

Research results released in spring 2014 indicated—to the disappointment of chocolate and red wine lov­ers—that resveratrol might not help us live longer. In a study of older individuals living in Italy’s Chianti region, researchers found that the compound was unlikely asso­ciated with longer life. They measured resveratrol in the urine of participants and compared levels among those who died over the nine-year course of the study (it was expected that a portion would die, as participants were 65 years of age and older) and those who survived. Res­veratrol levels were similar among those who died and those who survived, suggesting that the compound has no significant impact on longevity, at least not in the amounts we consume in food and drink.1

Though you may feel a little less justified in treat­ing yourself to a regular glass of red wine or square of dark chocolate, studies related to the health benefits of both—from the impact on bone and heart health to healthy weight—are ongoing. Until we know more, a small indulgence in something that brings you pleasure can likely do more good than harm.

—Mia James

Reference

  1. Semba RD, Ferrucci L, Bartali B, et al. Resveratrol levels and all-cause mortality in older community-dwelling adults. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2014;174(7):1077-84. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.1582.