A compound found in wine and chocolate may not be linked to improved health as was once claimed, according to a new study.
The compound resveratrol was not associated with less inflammation, cardiovascular disease or cancer or with increased longevity among a group of elderly Italians, researchers found.
“This is contradictory to all the hype that we typically hear from the popular arena,” said Dr. Richard Semba, the study’s lead author from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
Past studies had found that resveratrol, a compound naturally present in certain fruits and vegetables, has properties that may benefit people’s health, Semba and his colleagues write in JAMA Internal Medicine.
But there was little evidence on the compound’s effect on a large population, they add.
Research on resveratrol hit a snag in 2012, when one of the field’s leading researchers was accused of fabricating data.
For the new study, Semba and his colleagues used data from 783 Italians who were tracked starting in 1998, when they were at least 65 years old. All were still living within their communities at that time.
The participants were examined and asked to complete a questionnaire about their diets. Urine samples were also collected from people in the study to measure levels of broken-down resveratrol.
Just over one-third of the participants died during the next nine years. About five percent were diagnosed with cancer and 27 percent of those that didn’t initially have heart disease developed it during the study.
The researchers found there were no differences in rates of death, heart disease or cancer or in amount of inflammation between people who started out with high and low levels of broken-down resveratrol in their urine.
Although resveratrol levels were only measured once, Semba said diet was assessed every three years via questionnaire and didn’t change much during the study - so the researchers assume resveratrol in the urine stayed somewhat consistent as well.
“This study suggests that dietary resveratrol from Western diets in community-dwelling older adults does not have a substantial influence on inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or longevity,” they write.
Teresa Fung, a nutrition researcher at Simmons College in Boston who was not involved in the new study, said she was “not surprised” by its findings.
Fung told Reuters Health she wouldn’t expect the amount of resveratrol found in a normal diet to have a detectable effect on health.
“I don’t see evidence that we should go after this by drinking wine, eating grapes or anything like that,” she said, adding that grapes can still be part of a healthy diet along with wine and chocolate - in moderation.
Fung also said there may be some detectable health effects from much larger doses of resveratrol, but that remains to be seen.
“Even at pharmaceutical doses those studies aren’t trending in one direction or another,” she said.