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Health Watch: Resveratrol Offers Health Benefits, But Should You Swallow a Pill or Drink Some Wine?

One study finds that a glass of wine contains enough to fight colorectal cancer; another looks at how resveratrol heals trauma patients

Christine Dalton, Kasey Carpenter
Posted: September 22, 2015

Pinot or pills? Scientists have eagerly explored the potential health benefits of resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound found in red wine and certain foods, for several years now. And several studies have shown the compound has the potential to aid in everything from depression prevention to diabetes management to cancer suppression. But one question wine lovers have wondered hasn’t been answered: Is it better to consume resveratrol in a daily glass of wine or in supplements?

Most of the studies have tested large doses of resveratrol, much higher than the amount consumed in a typical human diet. But new research from a team at the U.K.’s University of Leicester challenges the “more is better” assumption. The scientists looked at whether resveratrol could aid in the treatment and prevention of colorectal cancer. And they found that the amount of resveratrol contained in just one glass of red wine may be more effective than a larger dose.

The study, published in the July 29 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine, was focused on the chemoprevention of colon cancer. Chemoprevention is a developing science of using drugs, vitamins or diet-derived compounds to reduce the risk, development or reoccurrence of cancer. Previous research has tested large doses of resveratrol as a chemoprevention candidate, but with inconsistent and discouraging results.

For this study, the researchers tested the effect of a dietary feasible amount of resveratrol—the amount contained in a typical glass of red wine—on cancerous tissue in both mice and humans. They also tested the common supplement dose, which is 200 times higher. They measured the amount of resveratrol that reached intestinal tumors and whether it halted further tumor progression.

The less-is-more approach produced promising findings. The team determined that the glass of red wine dose induced significant biological changes that suggested it could prevent colorectal cancer, and it proved more potent than the alternative higher dose. In lab mice, low resveratrol ingestion decreased the tumor burden, the number or size of cancerous cells, by approximately 52 percent, whereas high ingestion decreased the burden by just 25 percent.

The anticarcinogenic effects only proved more successful when combined with a high-fat diet, however. That's something they plan to explore in future research.

Helping Organs Recover from Trauma

Most of resveratrol’s potential health benefits have been credited to its ability to act as an anti-inflammatory compound and an antioxidant. But a recent synopsis of several studies by a team at Chang Gung University in Taiwan, published in the 2015 volume of Mediators of Inflammation, finds that resveratrol may help vital organs recover post-trauma, and not just due to antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties but perhaps because of a not-yet-understood ability to modify how cells communicate with each other.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental injuries such as from falls, car accidents or other physical traumas kill more people between the ages of 1 and 44 than any other disease or illness. When the body is injured severely, it reacts, triggering inflammation around damaged organs and launching an immune system response. If there is heavy blood loss, the body may focus on keeping blood flowing to the heart and brain at the expense of organs.

The researchers found that resveratrol’s anti-inflammatory properties appear to play a significant role in accelerating the healing of organs such as the liver, lungs, intestines and heart by slowing inflammation and swelling. But they also found that resveratrol appears to alter how cells communicate, triggering the production of compounds that can help with healing and suppressing production of compounds that lead to inflammation. With each of the organs studied, healing accelerated when resveratrol was administered.

The authors stress that more study is needed to understand how resveratrol impacts cells and to develop possible treatments for trauma patients.

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