Resveratrol: Miracle Supplement or As-Seen-on-TV Rip-off?


Istockphoto"Here we go again, another miracle supplement courtesy of 60 Minutes," I thought to myself after I watched the newsmagazines recent report about resveratrol (a compound found in red wine) and its seemingly amazing potential to slow the aging process.

I saw the venerable Morley Safer sipping red wine and interviewing two researchers whove formed a biotech company to research the stuff and thought that an anti-aging supplement couldnt come soon enough for Morley (is it just me or has he become a human shar-pei?)

His story reminded me of another “miraculous supplement” report that 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl filed in 2004 from the Kalahari Desert. In it, she said that an African cactus called hoodia “could literally take your appetite away.”

As fast as you could say “lose weight without diet or exercise” or “live forever, never die,” hoodia—and now resveratrol—supplements have popped up all over the Internet, "as seen on TV." No proof ever surfaced that hoodia could dampen your appetite—or anything else, for that matter. And I have it on high authority that many of the hoodia supplements out there contain little or no hoodia, even if the stuff did work.

Next Page: But what about resveratrol? [ pagebreak ]But what about resveratrol? Research studies show that drinking red wine—in moderation—is healthy for your heart, and studies have shown that red wine factors into the healthy lifestyles of people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet. But can you extract the healthy stuff from red grapes or wine and expect to reap the same benefits? Could resveratrol one day become the fountain-of-youth pill?

“The questions you raise are interesting as well as important,” says Thomas Walle, PhD, professor emeritus of pharmacology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Walle researches cancer triggers and is familiar with resveratrols potential cancer-preventing benefits.

Having a couple of glasses of red wine with a meal containing lots of vegetables is no doubt very healthy, he tells me. But assuming that a reservatrol pill can have the same benefits is something else again, he says. “If you try to boil that down to individual dietary compounds, it gets quickly very complex.”

Whats more, he says, longevity—which is one of the many claims resveratrol advocates cite—can of course never be tested in humans. We dont even really know yet how the human body uses resveratrol, he says. In fact, according to the results of one study Walle conducted, “the FDA would disqualify resveratrol as a useful health chemical.” Though Walle tells me that resveratrol might have other healthful properties, experts are still speculating as to what, exactly, those might be.

Bottom line? Walle doesnt recommend taking resveratrol as an artificial dietary supplement. Ill take his advice and save my money on the supplements—and instead spend it on a really nice bottle of good-for-me red wine.