The Pulse: Could red wine solve the world’s problems? Probably not…

Diet & Fitness

6th October 2014

The Pulse is the Spectator’s answer to media nonsense about health. Tom Chivers looks past the headlines and all the conflicting advice about health in the news to find out what is true, and what you need to know to stay healthy. 

We all know, by now, the rule that if the headline is a question, the answer is probably no. (‘Was the Mona Lisa painted by aliens?’, ‘Are immigrants eating YOUR begonias?’, etc.) I wish to propose a corollary to that rule: if the headline begins ‘Could red wine help…’, the answer is definitely no.

Usually the end of the sentence is ‘cure cancer’, or ‘prevent heart disease’. But this time, it’s ‘Could red wine help improve your skin?’. The Daily Mail, among other places, reports that study found that a chemical found in wine – resveratrol – can interact with benzoyl peroxide, a common acne medication, to improve the efficacy of the drug.

That much is true, according to the original study, which was published in the journal Dermatology and Therapy, titled ‘Resveratrol Demonstrates Antimicrobial Effects Against Propionibacterium acnes In Vitro’. What that undoubtedly does not mean is that necking a couple of glasses of wine with your Oxycute is a good idea.

There are two important facts to note. One, the study says right there in the title ‘in vitro’ – that is, ‘in glass’, in a petri dish or test tube. Lots of things do good stuff in vitro. Vitamin C kills HIV in vitro. It’s a long step from there to doing it in the human body.

Two, the study does not mention wine at all. In its conclusion it notes that the results ‘highlight [resveratrol’s] potential as a novel therapeutic option or adjuvant therapy’; it is suggesting that future studies may find that resveratrol, separated from its vinous origins, may be useful as an extra tool.

We all love to think that our crippling alcohol problems are good for us in some way; many’s the morning that I tell myself the methylated spirits are working wonders for my complexion. But the evidence just isn’t there, and more importantly the evidence really is there that alcohol in any but the most modest of quantities causes a variety of health problems. Red wine really, really can’t help you with your disfiguring pustules. Sorry.