There’s nothing like a good study on red wine as a weight loss aid to get attention, but in the case of a recent study from Washington State University it’s not quite so simple. Gilliam Fuller, writing for Elite Daily, led with “Drink Up: Science Says Red Wine Can Actually Help You LoseWeight” while the Sentinel Republic headlined simply “Red wine can help you lose weight.” Meanwhile Chris Mercer reported in Decanter.com on the United Kingdom’s National Health Service weighing in with “Red wine weight loss theory is ‘nonsense’.” They’re all partly right, but mostly wrong.
The study analyzed fat metabolism in mice given resveratrol, finding that it promoted conversion of normal white fat cells into brown fat, which is associated with higher metabolism and less weight retention. It was a well done study, but findings in mice given resveratrol cannot be directly extrapolated to humans consuming wine. So UK health officials were correct in stating that “‘based on mice studies only, we don’t know whether resveratrol will have the same effect in people.” Many reports on the paper emphasized the high calorie content of wine, and suggested that we might be better off getting our antioxidants from berries and fruits.
I have so many issues with this it’s hard to know where to begin. For starters, wine is unique in the diet as a source of resveratrol, though even the most robust wines don’t have a lot. Berries and other fruits generally do not have meaningful amounts, but they do have large amounts of natural sugars. Because wine has fermented the sugars into alcohol, it wreaks less havoc with blood sugar levels. That is one reason why wine drinkers have lower rates of obesity and remains an important aspect of the Mediterranean diet. Resveratrol, at least in doses attainable from a couple of glasses of wine, probably has little if anything to do with it.
Lost in all this is the scientifically most interesting aspect of the study: brown fat. Until only a couple of years ago it was thought to exist only in babies and hibernating animals. If resveratrol can be proven to promote the formation of brown fat and hence weight loss in human clinical trials, it would be another facet to this miracle molecule. But not a reason to drink – or not drink – red wine.