Book Review: Resveratrol by Matilde Parente

Review 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.