Article By: Harvey Finkel. MD
Scientific evidence has been accruing for nearly half a century supporting the healthfulness of wine in moderate doses. Initially, population (epidemiologic) studies endorsed folk experience. Then ethyl alcohol, contained in common with other beverages, was deemed to supply a major share of the health benefits. But both strengthening some of alcohol’s salutary effects and providing others particularly their own, polyphenolic compounds, many of them antioxidants, derived chiefly from grape skins, have been the focus of attention. These are largely, but not exclusively, supplied by red wines.
The best known and most intently studied is resveratrol, which has been observed in several species to have antiaging properties, even extending life span. Resveratrol has been demonstrated to reduce susceptibility to diabetes and to obesity, to increase physical fitness and energy, and possibly to protect against the evil cabal of diseases that accompany aging: atherosclerosis, dementia, macular degeneration, osteoporosis, and so on. Oddly, resveratrol’s mechanism of action has been unknown, at least until now.
A study just published by Park, et al., in cell (DOI 1O.1O16/j.cell.2O12.O1.O17) reports an intricate biochemical mechanism by which resveratrol works its wonders. A helpful editorial comment by Tennen, et al., accompanies the Park article in the same issue (DOI 1O.1O16/j.cell.2O12.O1.O32). [warning The complexities disclosed are not meant for the eyes of us ordinary mortals, but are herein summarized so that the elite few can nuzzle up to them.] To quote the simplified version of the Tennen discussion, “resveratrol directly inhibits cAMP-dependent phosphodiesterases, triggering a cascade of events that converge on the important energy-sensing metabolic regulators AMPK, SIRT1, and PGC-1a.” This can follow several favorable pathways: mimicking calorie restriction to extend life span; improving mitochondrial function to heighten energy efficiency and fitness and to combat obesity; reducing the metabolic, degenerative, and inflammatory ravages of aging.
Even supposing the Park group to be entirely correct, there remain concerns as to the applicability to ordinary ingestion of resveratrol as part of wine. For example, what about its bioavailability and practical dosage? Do the data apply to humans in vivo? Resveratrol is far from the only polyphenol in wine. One of my colleagues suggests that compounds found in coffee and tea might be expected to exert similar effects. What does seem clear is that research on wine’s polyphenols must proceed.