Resveratrol, Red Wine…Fountain of Youth?

Not So Fast.

Don’t start guzzling the vino, even if you were intrigued by Sunday’s night’s 60 Minutes which featured scientists aglow about a new compound found in foods like grapes and red wine, called resveratrol, that they suggest might be the anti-aging potion.

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The scientists reported that mice whose diets were supplemented by resveratrol had better health and lived longer than counterparts who did not receive it. In the mice, resveratrol also appeared to lower the rate of diabetes and other diseases that are common as we age.

“But the jury is still out, way out, on red wine or resveratrol supplements,” cautions Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami, Florida.

1,500 Bottles of Red Wine Daily

For starters, the mice were fed massive doses of resveratrol – 24 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Red wine has about 1.5 to 3 milligrams of resveratrol per liter, so a 150-pound person would need to guzzle 750 to 1,500 bottles of red wine a day to get such a dose. If it didn’t extend your life, you’d be so drunk you wouldn’t really care.

80 Pills Daily of Resveratrol

Pills of resveratrol would require huge doses as well. The amount used in the mice studies were the equivalent of giving a 150-pound man 1,636 milligrams, which would add up to about 80 pills a day.

That’s a huge problem because megadoses of anything, even nutrients, is potentially toxic. That’s why the old saying “the dose makes the poison” is so true. Beta carotene is a beneficial chemical naturally occurring (in small amounts) in many fruits and vegetables, but massive doses in supplement form increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Huge doses of vitamin E increased the risk of heart problems in heart patients.

Negative Side Effects of Resveratrol

Some negative side effects of resveratrol are already known. Animal studies have shown that high doses affect blood platelets, which could increase the risk of bleeding when taken with anticoagulant, anti-platelet, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Bottom line: There are no long-term studies on humans yet, so why take a chance? In huge doses, resveratrol is no longer a natural compound. It’s a drug. We have no idea what the side effects of taking it are. Resveratrol, like beta carotene and vitamin E, may turn out to cause more harm than good.

Resveratrol – Probably Just Another Geritol

What to do:  Don’t get star-struck by the latest “miracle” or “super” food or nutrient in the media. These “miracles” get 15 minutes of fame.

By contrast, a healthy diet that’s full of natural whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, like the Pritikin diet, has had thousands of years of fame. “Fruits and veggies don’t make 60 Minutes headlines, but they do provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals proven to help us avoid age-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes,” counsels Kimberly.

Red Wine and the French

Be leery, too, of links made between the red wine-drinking French and their supposedly healthy hearts.  It’s real questionable how healthy those hearts really are because the French “are less inclined to list heart disease on death certificates in circumstances where it probably was the cause,” points out cardiologist Robert Vogel, MD, in the recently published book The Pritikin Edge: 10 Essential Ingredients For a Long and Delicious Life (Simon & Schuster).  And overall, writes Dr. Vogel, “the French don’t live significantly longer than Americans do.”

To his credit, 60 Minutes’ Morley Safer did point out that there is only one intervention scientifically documented to extend life. In the research world, it’s called calorie restriction. It involves cutting our daily calorie intake about 30%.

But the problem with the 60 Minutes segment is that it focused on one small group of people, part of a calorie restriction club. They made it sound as if you had to live with hunger every day. Regardless of how much your stomach growled, you were doomed to a life of tiny little portions of food – and yucky-looking food at that. 60 Minutes’ cameras zoomed in on the club’s bite-sized triangles of flourless bread with something green and gooey slathered on top.

Nothing could be further from the truth! As guests at the Pritikin Longevity Center have found, you can enjoy huge, satisfying platters of delicious food and never have to endure hunger as long as you’re eating the right foods, like fruits and vegetables (ideally, 9 or more servings daily), whole grains like brown rice and hot cereals, seafood, poultry, potatoes, and corn. You can eat big generous portions of these foods because they don’t pack a lot of calories into each bite.

“Focus on these low-calorie-dense foods,” encourages Kimberly, “and there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to cut your daily calorie intake by about 30%, shed excess weight, and live a much healthier, longer life – and without ever going hungry.”

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