If you’ve ever popped a piece of dark chocolate into your mouth with the belief its antioxidants make the candy a healthy choice, you may have to find another reason to indulge.
A new study says the antioxidant resveratrol, which is found in red wine, dark chocolate and grapes, is not associated with living longer. It won’t help you to avoid inflammation, cardiovascular disease or cancer, either.
Researchers from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, the National Institute on Aging, Baltimore and other institutions followed a group of nearly 800 men and women age 65 and older from Italy’s Chianti region, a region in Tuscany known for its Sangiovese grapes.
The researchers measured the resveratrol in the participants’ urine every day for nine years.
Thirty-four percent of the participants died during the course of the study. That would be expected, given their ages.
But the urinary resveratrol levels of those who remained alive were the same as those who died before the study ended.
Additionally, 27 percent of the participants developed heart disease and 5 percent developed cancer, regardless of their resveratrol level.
These results led researchers to conclude that resveratrols in our food have no measurable impact on our health.
Resveratrol has attracted a great deal of attention because of earlier research that reported resveratrol may have a positive effect on reducing inflammation, avoiding heart disease and cancer and increasing longevity, the study says. This earlier research took place in a lab with mice, and in clinical trials in which people took megadoses of the antioxidant.
This earlier research has help to spur resveratrol supplement sales, which now top $30 million a year in the U.S., the study says.
“The resveratrol history is all hype with little or no substance,” says cardiologist Steve Nissen, MD, Chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Nissen did not participate in the study.
“This new study is right on target,” Dr. Nissen says. “There’s no credible evidence that red wine, dark chocolate or grapes have any heart benefits.”
Cardiac surgeon A. Marc Gillinov, MD, says it’s fine to believe that consuming foods with resveratrol is “compatible” with a heart-healthy lifestyle.
“But the effect, if it exists, is unproven and likely small,” Dr. Gillinov says. “We are not writing prescriptions for dark chocolate or red wine.”
Dr. Gillinov is Surgical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Atrial Fibrillation. He did not participate in the study.
If you’re consuming small quantities of chocolate or the occasional glass of wine because you enjoy these foods, there’s no reason to change, says dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, of Cleveland Clinic’s section of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation. Ms. Zumpano did not take part in the study.
“If, however, you are taking supplements with resveratrol, you should discontinue the use of that supplement,” Ms. Zumpano says.
The study appears in the journal “JAMA Internal Medicine.”