Food & Drink

Is Wine Good For You? Who Knows and, Honestly, Who Cares


You could hear the mass decanting when Americans heard that wine might actually be good for them in the 1990s. Often the reports cited the so-called “French paradox” suggested that the lower chance of coronary heart disease in France, despite a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fat, could be a result of wine. More studies came in the following decades about whether resveratrol, the antioxidant in wine that’s also found in chocolate, could reduce the chance of disease and expand lifespan. While the findings were not conclusive, Americans were steadily drinking more wine.

On Monday, a new report in JAMA Internal Medicine suggested the avid wine-drinking might have been for naught. In an 11-year study of men and women 65 years or older in Italy’s Chianti region, researchers found that “dietary resveratrol from Western diets in community-dwelling older adults does not have a substantial influence on inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or longevity.” In other words, resveratrol from foods like red wine, chocolate, and grapes were not associated with improved health in this particular study.

This wouldn’t be the first time researchers have questioned whether resveratrol-loaded wine is good for you. The Atlantic reported last year that in a small study of men, resveratrol seemed to “undermine the cardiovascular benefits of exercise.”

Despite doubts, marketers eagerly set their sights on the antioxidant. In 1992, a winery tried to tout heart-health benefits from drinking moderate amounts of red wine–though it was quashed by government and public opposition. Resveratrol’s been added to chocolate and skin care products, and sales of resveratrol supplements in the U.S. have grown to more than $30 million annually, reported NPR.

Headlines are already declaring that red wine is not healthy after all, but it might not be that simple, either. Author Richard Semba, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in an email that wine might contain other beneficial compounds, though it’s not yet clear what those are. In other words, we are back where we started. Wine might be good for us, or it might not be, and it and it seems wishful to seek a magic bullet in each sip of bordeaux.

Instead, let’s admit that we’ve been drinking wine for pleasure all along. That pursuit is worthy in itself: another study has found happy people live longer.

Venessa-wong-190x190
Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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