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Sorry. But it’s not all bad news

By Timothy Cocks Science and the world 15 May 2014

Diets rich in antioxidant resveratrol fail to reduce deaths, heart disease or cancer

‘A study of Italians who consume a diet rich in resveratrol — the compound found in red wine, dark chocolate and berries — finds they live no longer than and are just as likely to develop cardiovascular disease or cancer as those who eat or drink smaller amounts of the antioxidant.

The story of resveratrol turns out to be another case where you get a lot of hype about health benefits that doesn’t stand the test of time,” says Richard D. Semba, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of the study described May 12 in JAMA Internal Medicine. “The thinking was that certain foods are good for you because they contain resveratrol. We didn’t find that at all.”‘ (emphasis added)

But, there is this:

“Despite the negative results, Semba says, studies have shown that consumption of red wine, dark chocolate and berries does reduce inflammation in some people and still appears to protect the heart. “It’s just that the benefits, if they are there, must come from other polyphenols or substances found in those foodstuffs,” he says. “These are complex foods, and all we really know from our study is that the benefits are probably not due to resveratrol.”‘

Looks like the dream of living to 100 on a diet of Barossa Shiraz and Haigh’s just went out the window.


This particular story caused a few health/science writers to question what, how and why they do what they do – interesting reading in their own right.


-Tim Cocks


  1. As long as my risk for those conditions doesn’t increase, no reason for me to give up on red wine and chocolate.

  2. Next week there will be a new idea about resveratrol, such is the nature of medical research. Sigh….

    It brings into question Empiricism as a tool for understanding human health and well being. To me it seems like a very blunt tool, and one poorly adapted to the task. Consider how many unaccounted extraneous variables could alter outcomes in even the most basic and well-controlled trial. Consider how many articles in your favourite health journal end with the words “further research is needed”. Have they not noticed the trend of ever tightening circles of confusion? There’s also the question of how irrelevant many of the research topics are. A former employer of mine used to say about physio research: “Let’s read the APA journal so we can find out the average EMG twitch in the tibialis anterior when a patient farts”. He had a point. I rarely bother with the journal nowadays.

    Empiricism is the perfect tool for deciding how much steel to use when building a bridge. But for health care I think we need to look at other ways of knowing. Idealism, for example. No point writing an essay on that; introduction here if unfamiliar.

    Here in Australia, our newly elected government has introduced a $20 billion allocation for medical research. This happened in the same week that an Australian football legend died of cancer. Now let me join the dots and make my point. This legend of the game, Tom Hafey did everything humanly possible to ensure his health and fitness. He got up every morning of the year at 5:20am, went for an 8km run, followed by 250 push-ups and a swim in the bay. This would be followed by 700 sit-ups. He did this into his 80’s. He loved it. It was not a chore. He didn’t drink alcohol, and had what many would consider a perfect diet. He had very close friendships, a beautiful wife and family and everyone loved him. He had a real zest for life, a full life, then suddenly he is gone.

    Empiricists could not have predicted this. Empiricists might well have marked Hafey as one who would live forever. Life is strange


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