For all these years, we’ve been informed about the healthy and life-extending properties of a much-hyped ingredient in red wine and chocolate are unfounded, as research suggests.
The antioxidant resveratrol, found in dark chocolate, red wine, and berries, has no significant impact on lifespan, heart disease, or cancer, say scientists.
It cannot explain the “French Paradox” – which is the low incidence of heart disease suffered by people in France despite a diet laden with cholesterol and saturated fat, the believe. Other as-yet unidentified plant compounds might be conferring health benefits associated with their diet, according to the study.
Lead researched Professor Richard Semba, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said there was a lot of hype about the health benefits of resveratrol but that wasn’t backed up in the study.
Belief in the health-giving properties of resveratrol has lead to a plethora of supplements containing the compound and the promotion of diets based on boosting its consumption.
Previous research has shown that resveratrol has an anti-inflammatory effect and can improve the health and lifespan of mice. At the molecular level it mimics the effects of calorie restriction, which is known to lengthen the lives of some animals but not humans.
The new research involved 783 Italians aged 65 and over who were participants in the Ageing in the Chianti Region study from 1998 to 2009.
Regular urine tests were carried out to look for breakdown products of resveratrol and see if their levels were associated with reduced cancer, heart disease and death rates.
None of those taking part were taking resveratrol supplements, so they had to obtain the compound from their diet. The volunteers came from two villages in Tuscany where few people use supplements and the consumption of red wine is a part of life.
During the nine-year follow-up period, 34.3% of participants died and 27.2% of those free of heart disease at the start of the study developed the condition.
No significant association was seen between urine resveratrol levels and the likelihood of participants developing heart disease or cancer, dying, or bearing markers of chronic inflammation.
Despite the negative result, wine buffs and lovers of dark chocolate should not lose heart, say the scientists whose findings appear in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.