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The Grape Debate

Find out the real deal on red wine’s health benefits before you pour your next Pinot noir.

September 29th, 2011

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Wine

Recent headlines are ragging on red wine as an overhyped super drink, causing confusion and calling into question whether the red stuff is actually better for you than your run-of-the-mill alcoholic bevy.

But before you part with your Pinot noir and give a goodbye toast to your favorite Cabernet, let’s revisit red wine’s anti-aging ingredients and what the latest evidence reveals.

Resveratrol

The antioxidant, which comes from grape skins, has been touted as having both anti-aging and heart-health benefits. The trouble is that the amount of resveratrol in a glass of wine (about one milligram’s worth) is minimal. You’d need to consume an undrinkable amount of wine to (hypothetically) activate sirtuin proteins, the proclaimed miracle workers and proteins that kick-start your metabolism and may extend your life. (Preliminary studies suggest that sirtuin proteins may be activated by resveratrol.)

And now, evidence of resveratrol’s benefits is shakier than ever. Even in high concentrations, new research directly challenges the idea that resveratrol has anti-aging effects.

In fruit flies, researchers couldn’t activate the sirtuin proteins with resveratrol. In worms, they saw the longevity effects disappear when controlling for other factors.

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It turns out that the original studies weren’t so solid anyway (from a possible design flaw) and people may have gotten overexcited about the findings before there was solid evidence.

Yet support for resveratrol still remains—Sitris Pharmaceuticals is still working on adapting the sirtuins to develop drugs that could prolong life.

“As with many of the ‘miracle compounds’ found in foods, people tend to look at one chemical and want to take it as a supplement, separating it from the whole food matrix,” explains Kathy Arnink, viticulturist and enologist (translation: she specializes in the science, production and study of grapes and wine making) at Cornell University.

“With wines, there are many different compounds that may offer health benefits,” she says

These other compounds include plant derivatives called flavonoids. Flavonoids in food (like berries and of course, grapes) may increase antioxidant activity in your cells, helping to fight free radicals—the damaging agents in your body that can lead to heart disease and cancer.

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