If you follow the news about red wine you will have been deluged with coverage of a recent study finding that it prevents fat cells from maturing, and is therefore the latest miracle weight loss solution. The specific ingredient, a polyphenol called piceatannol, has not previously received a lot of attention. It does provide some answers to questions such as why wine drinkers are less likely to gain weight or develop type 2 diabetes, but raises some new questions too.
What the study found is that piceatannol inhibits the development of young fat cells – called preadipocytes – into permanent adult type fat cells. It accomplishes this by blocking the effect of insulin which activates genes in these cells that signal them to grow up and store fat. In theory, then, this could explain one of the benefits of a daily tipple.
The study also sheds some light on the role of resveratrol, the molecule that has received so much attention in recent years. As I pointed out in my book Age Gets Better with Wine, resveratrol doesn’t seem to last long in the blood stream after ingestion, one reason being that much of it is metabolized into piceatannol. Without knowing much about the effects of piceatannol, it is hard to give much credit to resveratrol. (Another problem still not explained is that there isn’t enough resveratrol in wine to explain the range of benefits that wine drinkers experience.)
So we are still left with a bit of a conundrum in that neither piceatannol nor resveratrol are the answer. It is just too big of a leap from treating cells in a dish in a laboratory to understanding the effects in the human body. Wine drinkers are healthier in large part because they eat better, exercise more, and tend to take a balanced approach to wine consumption. For these and other reasons, I will continue to patronize my local wine shop instead of the supplement store.