Resveratrol: That Was the Week That Was
by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi
Beginning November 1 nearly 500 newspapers reported on the resveratrol story, and virtually every major TV news department followed. The news media heralded a study which showed that high-dose resveratrol, known as a red wine molecule, maintained the quality of life of laboratory mice (balance and coordination) as they aged, despite a high-fat diet, and the high-fat fed mice lived 31% longer when given resveratrol.
The dietary supplement industry responded to the news reports in characteristic fashion.
An interview in a major newspaper with an executive for one supplement declared the subsequent rush for resveratrol supplements to be a fad that would soon disappear. Great, an industry exec was dissing his own industry — so much for dietary supplements as an answer to the diabesity epidemic now underway.
After Charlie Rose interviewed David Sinclair, PhD, a Harvard professor, on TV, about the promise of resveratrol pills, supplement manufacturers began scheming for business.
One company paid for the top spot in online Google ads using the search word "resveratrol" to attract prospective customers to their website, then offered "grape extract with resveratrol" for a product that the manufacturer admitted was not standardized for resveratrol and in fact may provide very little if any resveratrol at all.
Other companies swiped trademarks from other companies. Another company made claims their resveratrol product had higher antioxidant potency than other brands, when it wasn’t the antioxidant power that produced the health benefits. Say anything to get the business.
Most health food stores had only a small supply of resveratrol pills on hand, not enough to meet the demand. In health food stores today, any old resveratrol pill will do as long as it says "resveratrol" on the label. Some of these products provide less resveratrol per pill than found in a glass of wine (less than 1 milligram).
Despite efforts by this writer two years ago to warn the dietary supplement industry that resveratrol is an unusual molecule that is subject to decay from exposure to light, oxygen or heat, and it may be altered or degraded during manufacture, and that the actual amount of resveratrol in conventionally-made supplements is often less than half the labeled amount, a fact which could embarrass the industry, supplement companies have paid little attention to the problem. It’s business as usual.
Resveratrol safety questioned
Then the anti-dietary supplement news media began swaying consumers towards wine because, as some authorities claimed, there is an uncertainty over the safety of resveratrol supplements.
Forget that resveratrol pills have been sold for the past 5 years with no major side effects noted. Forget that animal studies show the equivalent of 21,000 milligrams in humans would not be toxic. Forget that the EPA deems resveratrol to be non-toxic. Forget that three human clinical trials using up to 500 milligrams of resveratrol have passed the safety arm of their study. Forget that the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has conducted a toxicity review of resveratrol. Forget the wine pills have no alcohol or calories in them whatsoever. Resveratrol pills now had a cloud placed over them.
For the record, resveratrol pills are far safer than any alcoholic beverage and even safer than aspirin. When an alternative to an alcoholic beverage was available, a fact which should have been heralded, modern medicine and the news media, in a phobic aversion to dietary supplements, advised the public to get drunk on wine. Yep, you’d need to drink quite a few bottles of wine daily to get the same effect as the mice did in the recent study.
So 90 percent of the news reports said, until proven otherwise, wine was safer than the pills. Then, in a convoluted way, reporters then said it would take too much wine to produce the same health benefits as shown in the recent study and consumers would have to drink far beyond the point of inebriation. Reporters drove this story into the ground until one wondered why they were reporting it.
The human equivalent dose for a 160-pound adult would be about 1575 milligrams of resveratrol to produce the health benefits noted in the mouse study. The reporters didn’t read the study carefully, published in Nature Magazine, which said a lower-dose (~364 milligrams for a 160-pound adult) produced similar benefits.
Furthermore, the mice were engorged with fat, 60% of their daily calorie intake. Americans once consumed about 45% of daily calories from fat (1965), but that number has dropped to about 34% (2002). So a lower amount of resveratrol, maybe half as much (~180 mg) would likely be effective.
To add to the confusion, Big Pharma paid off a university researcher to tell a Canadian newspaper reporter that resveratrol is not biologically available in oral doses, when the recent National Institutes on Aging/Harvard study had proven otherwise (the mice consumed oral doses and benefited).
Can the public sort through the spin?
One wonders how a great discovery like penicillin would be dealt with by reporters and doctors today. Recall that penicillin never underwent a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to prove its safety and effectiveness. It was first used successfully to cure an eye infection in a young boy.
Why today the National Institutes of Health would claim penicillin was unproven and in need of decades of safety studies before it could be commonly prescribed. Drug companies would drive the price of penicillin to thousands of dollars per dose, declaring a shortage. HMOs would ration penicillin, fearing bankruptcy, and would say it could only be used as a last resort. News reporters would then call their family members and advise them to purchase drug company stocks while telling the public that penicillin is a "magic bullet."
As future breakthroughs in healthcare are reported, doctors and the news media are going to spin the story endlessly to their own ends. It’s going to take an adept citizenry to recognize the recent red wine/resveratrol study was on par with Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin or Louis Pasteur’s use of heat to destroy pathogenic bacteria (Pasteurization).
Significance of resveratrol
Resveratrol will change the world for the better, but only if the public can see through the twisted interpretations by doctors and news reporters. Resveratrol is a potent anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-estrogen, anti-cholesterol, weight-controlling, blood pressure and blood sugar-normalizing agent. The drug companies know what resveratrol portends — the end of their charade that different drugs are needed for each disease and that synthetic molecules work better than nature.
Hopefully, someday soon, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will obtain FDA approval for resveratrol so it can be utilized after every fresh heart attack or stroke, every fresh diabetic crisis, and every long-term surgery, and modern medicine will embrace its presence.
Bill Sardi [send him mail] is a consumer advocate and health journalist, writing from San Dimas, California. He offers a free downloadable book, The Collapse of Conventional Medicine, at his website. Bill Sardi has a commercial interest in red wine pills (not Sirtris Pharmaceuticals).