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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Resveratrol: One step forward, two steps back

Resveratrol is in the news again but this time for all the wrong reasons.  No, it didn't just break up with a pop star or get busted for breaking probation.  Stunning allegations from the University of Connecticut suggest that a significant percentage of Dipak Das' (UConn professor and Director of the Cardiovascular Research Center) scientific research on RES may suffer from scientific fraud (see here for just one article).  I looked at some of the (60,000 page!) report and it looks like much of the fraud was based on images of Western blots that had been altered or fabricated.  I have long complained about figures of Western blots in various publications where only the bands of interest are shown with no molecular weight markers or anything.  This is like buying a car based on a picture you see on the internet.  Yes, there is a band there but you have no idea how good the antibody is that you are using to probe with, if the protein runs at the right place on the gel, etc.  In Das' case, it looks like random bands were just pasted on there.  No bueno, pal, no bueno.

Does this mean that resveratrol is now demoted to a worthless contamination in an otherwise tasty glass of wine?  Um, no.  I'll admit I have read some of Das' stuff and it has influenced some of my opinions about RES, but there are a whole host of researchers out there that have demonstrated how RES impacts biological pathways and (in my opinion) there is very clear evidence that it has a significant effect if the dose is high enough.  Unfortunately, cases like this place a stigma on research involving RES and could hinder progress towards understanding the physiological benefit of this molecule.

Ok, so now on to better news.  My favorite wine goddess maker, Kerith Overstreet from Bruliam Wines, has a new blog post on the cardioprotective properties of wine. It's pretty funny (you can check it out here) but in it she highlights not RES, but oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs).  If you recall an early post I made on the magic of winemaking (here), you may recognize OPC as another term for polymerized flavinoids, which include tannins such as catechin.  Most OPCs originate from the grape skin, so the amount of OPC in any given bottle can vary dramatically.  The final levels depend, in part, on how long the grape skins are left in the fermentation since it is the rising alcohol content that ultimately extracts the monomeric proanthocyanidins from the grape.  Therefore, craft is a big variable in determining the benefit of wine to the drinker (we are all counting on you, Kerith!) Interestingly, Das was involved in a company called Dry Creek Nutrition, that was trying to purify and sell proanthocyanidins.  In light of the Das debacle, maybe OPCs are the new RES!

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