The first human study demonstrating positive health benefits of resveratrol was just published in the journal Cell Metabolism. This study, performed by a group from the Netherlands, appears promising. Eleven obese, but otherwise healthy, men were recruited to take either a placebo or resveratrol treatment for 30 days. After the initial 30 days, the subjects waited 4 weeks, for what amounted to a washout period, and were then assigned to the opposite treatment (this is called a crossover study design). Neither the subjects nor the researchers knew which treatment was being given at any point of the study (referred to as a double-blind study). To obtain the dose of resveratrol given in this study (150mg/day) from red wine, would require drinking more than two gallons of red wine a day (!). No adverse effects of resveratrol were seen after the 30 day trial.
The metabolic changes observed with resveratrol in humans were very similar to what has previously been shown in animal models and cells. To spare you the details, resveratrol treatment for 30 days resulted in improvements in glucose control, inflammation, liver function and showed enhanced energy utiliziation by muscles. All of these changes suggest resveratrol has the potential to protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes, much like endurance exercise training or calorie restriction.
Why is this important? Do we really want a pill that mimics exercise and diet and eliminates the need for us to live a healthy lifestyle? In my opinion, nothing will come close to replacing exercise for overall health benefits. But, while we all know that exercise is good for us, very few of us manage to fit exercise into already busy lives at a frequency or intensity that is necessary for profound health benefits. And given the dire predictions that by 2020, 83% of men and 72% of women will be overweight or obese, something has to change. While the state of semi-starvation known as calorie restriction has shown significant health benefits and a demonstrated effect on lifespan extension in animal models, its potential to catch on in the general public is low. Calorie restriction demands a decrease in daily calorie intake of about 30% - far more than is currently recommended for weight loss. There are die-hard proponents and practitioners of calorie restriction out there, and they will swear that the body adjusts to the diet and they feel energized and better for it. They are probably right. But if you ask me, they look hungry!
Perhaps the most important reason researchers keep searching for the evasive exercise pill is because there are many individuals that are incapable of exercising to the degree necessary to improve their health - the frail and the elderly, individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, or the morbidly obese. They need an option, perhaps in the form of a pill, to jump start their metabolism and give them a chance for a healthy lifestyle. Resveratrol just might be the pill to do it. It has come closer than any other compound so far.
So, feel free to pour a glass (or two or three) of red wine and enjoy!