Friday, September 19, 2014
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Say It Ain't So - Red Wine May Not Be a Cure-All After All

For years, we've been told that red wine contains a miracle substance that can slow the aging process and prevent chronic disease.

Say It Ain't So - Red Wine May Not Be a Cure-All After All

For years, we've been told that red wine contains a miracle substance that can slow the aging process and prevent chronic disease.  Known as resveratrol, it is found in the skin of wine grapes, especially those used to make reds.  It's been touted as the reason countries with high levels of red wine consumption, like France and Italy, enjoy especially long life expectancies.

What could be better news that that?  A beverage that people have savored for millennia is actually good for you.  Sugary soft drinks may pose a threat, but help yourself to red wine without fear, at least in moderation.

What's more, resveratrol is found is other popular foods, like dark chocolate and peanuts.

Now comes news that resveratrol may not be such a miracle after all.  Researchers put it to the test among a group of elderly residents of the Chianti region of Italy.  (Where better to conduct such a study?)  They found no correlation between levels of resveratrol in subjects' urine and rates of heart disease and cancer.  Nor could they find a correlation with a marker of inflammation, which can indicate heightened risk for these conditions.  And there was no relationship between death rates during the course of the study and resveratrol levels.

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This is only one study, and the number of subjects was fairly small.  The researchers caution that a larger study might find evidence of health effects.  However, some experts were not surprised.  They have contended all along that the relationship between resveratrol and health is not so simple.

Is this another example of scientists confusing the public?  First we hear one thing about what we should eat and then a few years later, we hear the opposite.

This is actually another case of science working the way it is supposed to.  Scientists gather data and then build theories based on it.  Theories are meant to be tested, which means they are prone to being disproved.  When they are, new teams of researchers gather more data and develop new ones.

It is common for scientific theories to be modified or disproved over time.  But they are crucially important nevertheless.  They help scientists to make sense of data and to set the stage for the next round of research.

Theories that lead to simple prescriptions about what to eat or what to avoid can gain traction easily, especially when they advise us to consume foods that we enjoy.  However, they are always subject to testing, and it is common to discover over time that the picture is much more complex than scientists had initially thought.  That's how science advances.

So, take new scientific theories with a grain of salt.  It takes time to test them.  That's what science is all about.  Just make sure to take the salt in moderation.  At least that’s what the current theory says.

Robert I. Field, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H. Professor, School of Law & Drexel School of Public Health
About this blog

The Field Clinic reports and analyzes health care laws, government policies, and political trends that are transforming the care we receive and the way we pay for it. Read more about our panel of bloggers here.

This blog is produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health-policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. Portions of this blog may also be found on Inquirer.com and in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section.

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Robert I. Field, Ph.D., J.D., M.P.H. Professor, School of Law & Drexel School of Public Health
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