The relatively low incidence of heart disease among the French, whose diet contains high levels of saturated fat, is commonly known as the French Paradox. Many have attributed this phenomenon to their consumption of red wine. We know now that resveratrol, a compound found in the skins of red grapes, is very likely to be the major component that contributes to this phenomenon. But is it possible that the benefits of resveratrol can also help prevent cancer?

Resveratrol is an antibiotic compound produced as part of a plant’s defense system during times of environmental stress such as adverse weather, insect attack, or fungus invasion. It is also an antioxidant that can inhibit lipid peroxidation of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), which plays an important role in preventing the occurrence of heart disease. Resveratrol also appears to intervene in cancer progression by inhibiting enzymes such as COX-1 and ribonucleotide reductase which play important roles in the development of tumor cells.

A recent study by Drs. Marty Mayo and Fan Yeung at the University of Virginia demonstrated that resveratrol can facilitate the initiation of cancer cells’ self-destruction by inhibiting the activity of nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), which activates genes critical for cell survival. Additionally, its minimal toxicity to blood-forming cells makes it an appealing candidate as an anti-cancer agent.

Although present in foods such as mulberries and peanuts, resveratrol can be found most abundantly in the skins of red grapes. The resveratrol content can be further increased by allowing grape skins to be present during the fermentation process of wine making. As a result, resveratrol concentration in red wine is significantly higher than white wine because the skins are removed earlier during white wine production. Of the different types of red wine, resveratrol concentration is the highest in pinot noir, followed by cabernet Franc, merlot, and it varies greatly in cabernet sauvignon. Grape juice, which is not a fermented beverage, is not a significant source of resveratrol.

While there are many known benefits associated with resveratrol, doctors do not encourage heavy intake of resveratrol supplements, nor do they recommend a populationwide red wine consumption increase. Currently, we have limited knowledge about the absorption and clearance of resveratrol, the identities of its metabolic products, and its effects on the liver. Therefore, you should consult with your physician first to determine the amount of wine intake that can offer you the most health benefits.

The recommended amount is typically no more than 1 glass per day.