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Book Review: Resveratrol by Matilde Parente

resveratrol_cover.jpgReview by Tim Patterson.

This is a short booklet, no frills, on a very focused topic, and will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the serious science behind the claims that resveratrol in red wine is a boon to your health. Definitely worth a read.

This whole business started, of course, with the famous "60 Minutes" piece over a decade ago on the French Paradox, the mystery of how it could be that the folks who eat foie gras for snack food have fewer heart attacks than the rest of us who just eat McDonalds's grease on our fries. The clue was greater red wine consumption, and the clue within the clue turned out to be the phenolic compound resveratrol, an alleged magic bullet that has only accumulated more potential life-giving credentials over the ensuing years.

There are several high-volume books out there on the market that amount to resveratrol advertorials, a kind of grape pulp fiction, usually ending with web addresses where you can buy resveratrol pills in bulk. They claim, more or less, that resveratrol will make you live forever. This is not one of those books.

Parente is an MD and a wine nut, an excellent and apparently common combination. What this 40-page booklet does is review the scientific literature on resveratrol's power and potential, translate that research into Plain English with very little medicalese, and give you the references for the full journal publications. Is this as much fun as reading Matt Kramer waxing poetic in the Wine Spectator, or trying out bizarre food and wine pairings on your friends? Of course not--but then, this booklet is part of the fact-based paradigm.

As a casual follower of the resveratrol story, what surprised me in this condensed survey was the extremely wide range of ways in which this intriguing phenolic compound can play a protective role--as an anti-oxidant (the best-known function), in lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol, as an anti-inflammatory, in preventing blood clots, in forestalling Alzheimer's, in recovering from and lessening the recurrence of stroke, and so on. Not the miracle cure, but way more promising in terms of health benefits than, say, granola.

Parente is careful not to say that any one of the findings she presents provides a straight line to Biblical longevity--though you can find that book for sale, too. But she does an excellent job of covering the field in a modest number of pages. You, for example, may just not have gotten around to reading the 2003 article in the journal Thorax on microphages and inflammatory cell signals, but Matilde Parente did, and it's in here. With a full citation.

Resveratrol, at this point, should be understood as a very promising science project in progress, not a product launch. Here's the science, and it's fascinating, for less than the price of a good glass of wine.

Matilde Parente, Resveratrol, Woodland Publishing, 2009, $4.95 (paperback)

Tim Patterson writes for several wine magazines, blogs at Blind Muscat's Cellarbook, and co-edits the Vinography book review section.

Comments (7)

10.06.09 at 10:09 PM

Alder, thanks for this. I choose to believe in its benefits since it gives me a great excuse to drink red wine! I stop a bit short of buying all the new lines of cosmetics that have grape extracted added as I'm not sure it will work on a topical level.

Anyone think it does?

Wink Lorch wrote:
10.07.09 at 12:15 AM

Tim/Alder - thanks for publishing this review - the booklet adds to the enormous body of work on resveratrol, which is revered by some, but completely discredited by others. Earlier this year at the London Wine Fair I attended a seminar by Professor Roger Corder (Author of 'The Red Wine Diet - published 2007 by Avery in the USA or 'The Wine Diet' pub Sphere in the UK, which has nothing to do with weight loss diet but everything to do with red wine and its potential nutritional value). He maintains that the amount of resveratrol in red wines is so minute that a) it would be extremely damaging to drink the amount of alcohol needed for it to be beneficial and b) that it cannot be resveratrol that is the main red wine polyphenol responsible for its health-giving properties - his research team have discovered that the 'good' polyphenols are in fact procyanadins. At the seminar I attended, which, interestingly, focussed on the wines of South-West France, which seem to have higher procyanadins than some, he positively heaped scorn on the resveratrol argument.

You have to read the book or study elsewhere to know more for I am no scientist. You can find the book on Amazon (where there are some quite interesting reviews on it):

10.07.09 at 6:04 AM

Yes, Wink's post sheds a light that I have seen shining elsewhere.

These days, whenever someone asks me about red wine and health my standard response is: wine is not health food--never will be, either.

Dylan wrote:
10.07.09 at 6:50 AM

I liken the resveratrol concept to insects. There's a common claim that insects are actually the most lean and protein rich food you can ingest per pound--but, one problem remains with this fantastic finding; who wants to eat a pound of bugs?

Arthur wrote:
10.07.09 at 9:48 AM

Those pesky french also eat less processed foods higher in Omega3 fatty acids and other essentials which are stripped from our diet, exercise portion control and do a lot more casual exercise like walking to the store, etc.

Then there is the evidence that says red wine is protective when consumed with food - because it "neutralizes" those chemicals which (when absorbed by the intestines and taken into the system) have been shown to be damaging to health.

That being said, I suspect that taking a Resveratrol supplement is not unlike taking 1000mg of Vitamin C daily - your body needs and retains only 80mg daily and the rest goes (literally) down the toilet.

Greg wrote:
10.07.09 at 3:11 PM

Hello and congratulations on Food Buzz! I am nominated in the same category, but I wanted to say "Hello" and say good luck. It's an honor to be nominated alongside you! GREG

Johnny wrote:
06.08.11 at 3:44 PM

Thanks for sharing this review!
Cheers :)

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