Can resveratrol – the 'wonder chemical' in red wine – live up to the hype?
In an increasingly chemophobic world, one chemical – resveratrol – is doing rather well for itself.
This polyphenolic stilbenoid is a natural product found in peanuts, cocoa powder and the roots of Japanese knotweed, but it only came to public prominence as the health-promoting component of red wine, in which it is present at levels of up to 14 milligrams per litre, depending on the grape variety.
As molecules go, it is certainly a multitasker, with purported activity against cardiac disease, obesity, cancer, vascular dementia and ageing. That’s a lot of pressure to put on one molecule. Can resveratrol live up to our expectations?
Many of these claims centre upon its ability to reduce oxidation in cells: its fabled antioxidant activity. All molecules, including biological ones, carry around their own cloud of electrons. These are most stable when they exist in pairs. Sometimes, though, electron pairs split. Then you’re left with an unpaired electron – and unpaired electrons like nothing more than to mess with other biological molecules.