Resveratrol—a naturally occurring substance found in red wine and chocolate—may not reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer the way research has previously suggested, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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For the study, Johns Hopkins researchers analyzed data on nearly 800 men and women who took part in the Aging in the Chianti Region study from 1998 to 2009 in two villages in Italy. All the participants were at least age 65 and consumed a diet rich in resveratrol.
Researchers measured the level of resveratrol in each participant's diet by testing their urine. Over a nine-year period, the researchers compared the resveratrol levels to the incidence of cancer, heart disease, and death.
They found that resveratrol levels had no significant effect on cancer or death. They also found no evidence that resveratrol lowered heart disease rates. In fact, the lowest heart disease rates were among participants who had the lowest levels of resveratrol.
"When it comes to diet, health, and aging, things are not simple and probably do not boil down to one single substance, such as resveratrol," says study author Richard Semba, adding, "Perhaps it brings us back again to rather tried and true advice of diet—Mediterranean-style—and regular aerobic exercise for healthy aging."
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Samantha Heller, a clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center, says resveratrol-containing foods—foods such as berries, peanuts, and red grapes—are still part of a healthy diet, but "since we eat foods and not single nutrients or compounds, we must remember to look at the whole picture of what we eat and how we choose to live."
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The study on red wine came on the same day as the World Health Organization (WHO) released a study on the overall effects of alcohol consumption. The WHO found that heavy alcohol consumption kills one person every 10 seconds.
The study found 16% of the world's alcohol consumers binge drink, and dangerous drinking contributed to 3.3 million deaths worldwide in 2012. WHO officials say they hope to see a 10% reduction in harmful alcohol use by 2025.
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"This is not to say that a glass of wine now and then is not a healthy option," Heller says, adding that the American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than one to two drinks per day and women no more than one drink (Reinberg, HealthyDay, 5/12; Phend, MedPage Today, 5/12; Sifferlin, Time, 5/12).
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