Red wine has been firmly established as the wonder drug of our time. It prevents blindness, skin cancer, diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay! It fights radiation and food poisoning! It makes you thin and young and lovely and French! Whoops, not French, sorry, we got a little carried away there. But it does cure impotence.
For years scientists have been trying to figure out red wine's secret wonder ingredient. (That's part of being a scientist. You can't ever just appreciate a good thing. You have to figure out what makes it work.) A few years ago, scientists thought they'd found it: a compound called resveratrol.
But now a team of researchers at Wash. U. has put the kibosh on that. And thank goodness, because the National Institute of Health actually had this crazy idea that people could stop drinking wine and just take resveratrol tablets instead.
"Few studies have evaluated the effects of resveratrol in people," said Dr. Samuel Klein, the lead investigator of the study. "Those studies were conducted on people with diabetes, older adults with impaired glucose tolerance or obese people who had more metabolic problems."
So instead Klein and his team decided to evaluate a group that was comprised of neither mice nor sick old people: 29 non-obese, non-diabetic, post-menopausal women. Not a particularly large or diverse sample, it's true. But it was a start. Fifteen of the women received 75 milligrams of resveratrol every day in tablet form, the equivalent of drinking eight liters of red wine. (Holy crap, that's a lot of wine.) The remaining fourteen took a placebo. Neither group, of course, knew whether they were taking resveratrol supplements or sugar pills.
The doctors, naturally, measured the women's sensitivity to insulin and the rate of glucose uptake in their muscles, which previous researchers have claimed stimulates an enzyme that burns fat.
Reports Klein: "It's the most sensitive approach we have for evaluating insulin in people. And we were unable to detect any effect of resveratrol."
But what about the individual body cells? Well, Klein took samples of the women's muscle and fat tissue. And again, no sign of resveratrol.
Do you hear that? These supplements -- upon which Americans spend $30 million annually -- have no effect whatsoever.
That's not to say resveratrol isn't the agent of red wine's wonder powers, Klein adds. It's just that it has to work in concert with other compounds in red wine.
The moral of this story? Keep drinking.