Don’t get soaked: The truth about red wine and resveratrol

Much has been made recently about pro basketballer Amar’e Stoudemire’s “vinotherapy” rehab program, which involves soaking in red wine baths. I tried it myself a few years ago at the Caudalie spa in Bordeaux, and while it was a fabulous experience I would put it more into the pampering category than physical rehab. But the practice does raise a lot of questions, and as with so many issues about wine and health there is a kernel of truth shrouded by a layer of hype.
Dr. Richard Baxter and Mathilde Thomas
For deep healing to happen, something would have to be absorbed from the wine in significant enough amounts to have an effect, and there is scant evidence that this occurs. A more realistic concept is rejuvenation of the skin, which can absorb certain compounds found in wine. Resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, has received much attention both as a supplement and a skin care product. But just as there is not enough resveratrol in wine to explain wine’s health benefits alone, there isn’t enough in baths either.

Credit goes to Mathilde Thomas, founder of Caudalie, for connecting skin care to resveratrol. Science has backed this up too; resveratrol can be absorbed into the skin, where it provides an array of anti-aging benefits. Several large brands have now jumped on the resveratrol bandwagon, including SkinCeuticals.
The hype of the story stems from the increasingly common mistake of equating red wine’s benefits to resveratrol.  (For examples, see my recent posts here.) The reasoning goes like this: The French Paradox or some other study associates red wine with longevity, or lower rates of heart disease, or diabetes, or something else; resveratrol has been shown in lab studies to provide an explanation for these benefits; but in order to achieve levels of resveratrol  high enough for the same effect, one would have to consume dozens of bottles; so red wine must not be good for you after all. The correct interpretation of course is that it must be something other than resveratrol, or in addition to it.

Three amigos: Me, Professor Joseph Vercauteren, and David Sinclair
It’s partly my fault. In my book I set out to identify a plausible cause-and-effect relationship for each of the known benefits of moderate wine consumption, and resveratrol fits the bill. But I also emphasized that it is only one of many antioxidant polyphenols compounds in wine, and that they often work synergistically. I also pointed out the relationship of red wine consumption in moderation as a marker for many other healthy lifestyle habits. The ability to relax is probably one of those, and if soaking in a tub of wine helps, I am all for it.

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