Can't Drink Enough Red Wine?

Will taking a red wine extract pill be as effective as drinking red wine? I heard that you would have to drink 35 glasses of wine in order to get the same benefits as taking the extract pill. Is this true?

– March 26, 2009

I’m assuming that you want to know the best way to get resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine and in the skin of grapes that has been shown to extend life in animal experiments. In studies with mice, researchers from Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) found that resveratrol prevented the negative health effects of weight gain – enlarged livers, high insulin levels and diabetes – and reduced the risk of death by 31 percent. Research has also suggested that resveratrol can mimic the effects of caloric restriction, which has been shown to extend longevity in mice (perhaps a more accurate way to view this is that captive mice, like modern humans, tend to shorten their lives by overeating – which means that what we call life-extending “caloric restriction” may really just be an optimal caloric intake that leads to a comparatively longer lifespan).

Red wine has about 1.5 to 3 milligrams of resveratrol per liter. That means that to get the resveratrol dose given to the mice in the Harvard/NIA study (24 mg per kilogram of body weight), a 150-lb person would have to drink 750 to 1,500 bottles of red wine a day.

While supplements are available, we don’t yet know how much resveratrol is safe for human consumption. And since the supplements on the market are not regulated by the FDA, we don’t know if they really contain the dose listed on the label. Some, made from grape seeds and red wine, claim to provide resveratrol but don’t tell you how much. We’ll have to wait for more research and better products. I doubt that you could get a dose equivalent to that fed the mice (or would want to) from currently available supplements.

Instead, I recommend increasing your resveratrol intake simply by eating more red and purple fruits, such as grapes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries. If you drink alcohol, red wine would be a good choice. If you don’t drink, rely on fruits.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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