There is bad news for those who believe drinking red wine is protecting their hearts and extending their lives. A study released this week in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a plant compound in grapes may not provide such health benefits.

The compound – resveratrol – is found in the skin of red grapes, peanuts, berries and dark chocolate.

In the nine-year study, researchers divided 783 men and women, ages 65 or older into four groups based on their resveratrol levels. During the study, 34.3 percent of the participants died, 27.2 percent developed cardiovascular disease and 4.6 percent developed cancer. The participants lived in the Chianti region of Italy.

Researchers found resveratrol had no significant effect on longevity, inflammation, cardiovascular disease or cancer.

Previous studies, mostly in animals, highlighted the compound’s health benefits.  Its consumption in red wine has been used to explain the “French Paradox” – the low heart disease rates in France despite a typical diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

The new results may reflect a limited study size and differences among participants, says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., cardiologist and director of the New York University Center for Women’s Health in New York City.

“There was variability in resveratrol intake in this population and also variability in how individuals metabolize resveratrol, underestimating its effects,” said Goldberg, also a national American Heart Association spokesperson. “Resveratrol alone may not reduce risk for heart disease or cancer or increase longevity. Instead we recommend eating healthy foods, some of which contain resveratrol, and others that include healthy nutrients.”

The AHA recommends eating an overall balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products, as well as getting the right amount of nutrients from a variety of foods.

Because the alcohol in red wine can increase high blood pressure, obesity and stroke, the AHA recommends drinking it in moderation – no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. The organization also cautions people not to start drinking if they don’t already.

For more information: