This past week, Dr. Dipak Das, tenured research faculty at the University of Connecticut, was found guilty of 145 counts of research misconduct by an internal institutional review board. Das’s research findings had strongly supported the idea that resveratrol found in wine is capable of conveying health benefits to wine drinkers. It’s worth noting that even though Das was very prolific—that is, his lab turned out more than the average number of papers—Das didn’t publish in high-profile journals, whether because his work was rejected by the top-tier or because he chose to submit manuscripts only to less competitive publications. For more detail on Das’s scientific misconduct, see Tom Mansell’s piece published on Palate Press last week.

The biggest repercussions from Das’s fall may involve Longevinex, a resveratrol supplement company with which Das was associated. A statement on Longevinex’s website assertively rejects the possibility of Das’s misconduct affecting any of Longevinex’s claims. While it’s true, as the statement avows, that Photoshopping Western blot images (Das’s alleged crime) shouldn’t affect research findings based on photos of rat hearts that are key to Longevinex’s claims, it seems inevitable that the company will undergo further scrutiny. Incidentally, in light of the very extensive and apparently rock-solid evidence against Das (according to the university Scientific Review Board’s official summary of the investigation), it doesn’t exactly help Longevinex’s case that the company’s managing partner has publically suggested that the Das investigation might be a “witch hunt” directly aimed at undermining his company.

This seems a good opportunity to review what we know—or, perhaps, what we think we know—about resveratrol. Resveratrol is a bit tricky to pronounce, but it’s much easier than trans-3,4,’5-trihydroxystilbene, resveratrol’s chemical name. Although resveratrol has probably been used indirectly for centuries as a major constituent in herbs used by traditional Chinese medicine, it attracted Western medical attention in 1992 when researchers found substantial amounts of it in wine. Since then, it’s been a playground for molecular biologists, cardiology researchers, nutritionists, and pharmacologists alike. Medical miracles attributed to resveratrol essentially fall into four categories: prolonging life, halting cancer, healing damaged heart muscle, and anti-inflammatory effects.

We know that super-high doses of resveratrol allow yeast (S. cerivisiae), worms (C. elegans), fruit flies (D. melanogaster), and short-lived fish (N. furzeri) to live significantly longer: from 15% (in the case of the worms) to 66% (in the case of the yeasts.) In the yeast, the worms, and the fruit flies, we know that resveratrol activates the same pathway that seems to slow down aging when the same critters (and rodents) are put on semi-starvation diets1. If resveratrol can do the same thing in humans—a pretty big if, though not impossible—it might mean that we’d have a way of living longer without starving ourselves. Pretty exciting. What we need is evidence that it prolongs life in humans, and that’s what we don’t have yet.

This 2006 photo released Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 by the University of Connecticut shows Dipak Das with grapes and wine glasses at his office at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, Conn. The researcher is known for his work on red wine's benefits to cardiovascular health. UConn officials said an internal review found 145 instances over seven years in which Das fabricated, falsified and manipulated data. (AP Photo/University of Connecticut)

Multiple different mouse studies (none of which were published by Das) have shown that applying resveratrol to the skin or taking resveratrol orally help prevent multiple types of cancer, including skin and colon cancers. We even know something about why (via inhibition of the cancer-promoting COX 1 and 2, among several other mechanisms involving drug metabolism, antioxidants, and angiogenesis2), which means that we might be able to develop synthetic drugs that do the same thing better. Still, all of the resveratrol-as-cancer-buster studies have been in mice. Mice don’t metabolize all drugs in the same way as humans, they’re often given drugs in high doses that don’t translate to realistic human doses, and they don’t live as long. Moreover, lab mice are bred to have very specific characteristics (they come in more varieties than Baskin-Robbins ice cream) that can interfere with how well they mimic human responses. All this means that the mouse studies are interesting, but don’t really prove anything about the effect of resveratrol on cancer in humans. Watch for news on whether resveratrol does anything against cancer in real live people; I expect that the studies are underway somewhere.

Resveratrol research comes closest to practical implementation when it comes to cardioprotective effects. A Hungarian study published just this month reports that several measures of heart function improved in people who took resveratrol supplements for three months after suffering a heart attack3. Resveratrol reduces clot formation (and therefore heart attack and stroke, much like aspirin) in rabbits. It also reduces the severity of atherosclerosis in rabbits fed a high-cholesterol diet4. Again, what we need to see is evidence that these same effects occur in humans.

Finally, resveratrol has well-documented anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is now thought to play a role in myriad diseases, from the usual suspects like arthritis to Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes, and whenever someone thinks to throw resveratrol at one of them, it seems to help. Numerous studies using brain cells or rats (but not whole, live humans, not yet) suggest that resveratrol can help protect the brain from the inflammatory plaques that cause Alzheimer’s5. Two small, recent studies in real live humans provide quite convincing evidence that resveratrol might help reduce signs of pre-diabetic insulin insensitivity6 and have other beneficial effects on metabolism in obese individuals7. I’m sincerely looking forward to seeing these studies replicated with more people.

Like many other potentially promising new drugs, the biggest problem with resveratrol is that we don’t know enough about it. No one seems to agree on how much resveratrol animals or humans should be given; amounts haven’t even been standardized for research purposes. Natural product that it is, wine can contain very different amounts of resveratrol depending on grape, origin, and processing, though red wines seem universally to contain more resveratrol than whites. Many supplements labeled “red wine extract” or “red grape extract” (as opposed to “resveratrol”) don’t state how much resveratrol they contain and are found to contain very little upon third-party analysis. On the other hand, studies testing the safety of resveratrol in humans suggest that even very high doses—5000 times the amount found in an average glass of red wine—are safe. Even still, pharmacologists have reason to believe that this gargantuan dose may not be enough to mimic in humans anti-cancer effects seen on cells in petri dishes.

The few studies using humans have not only involved a small number of people but, more importantly, haven’t lasted very long. We have no idea what the long-term effects of resveratrol are on any disease. Exercising its usual caution, the United States Federal Drug Administration (FDA) ruled in 2000 that there is an “inadequate basis for reasonable expectation of safety” regarding resveratrol as a dietary ingredient8. While supplement companies can and do market resveratrol in pills and health beverages and such, lack of FDA backing means that they cannot legally claim that resveratrol has any health benefits. There may come a day when the medical and scientific communities have enough evidence to back resveratrol as a useful drug. Right now, we honestly can’t say whether resveratrol is helpful, harmful, or useless.

Dr. Das has very little to do with all of this. A brief scan of his recent papers gives me the impression that the data he faked primarily has to do with molecular markers of improved cardiac function in mice. In other words, the questionable data suggested that resveratrol helped mouse heart cells repair themselves after a heart attack or other damage caused by clogged blood vessels. These sort of findings are always tested out in humans before anyone in the scientific or medical communities takes them too seriously. There is more than sufficient data on the effects of resveratrol in mice without Dr. Das’s data to warrant testing its effects in humans; throwing his research out the window really doesn’t change much. Still, we can all be gratified that the long and expensive process of human testing won’t take place on his account. 


Erika Szymanski was blessed with parents who taught her that wine was part of a good meal, who believed that well-behaved children belonged in tasting rooms with their parents, and who had way too many books. Averting a mid-life crisis in advance, she recently returned to her native Pacific Northwest to study for a PhD in microbial enology at Washington State University. Her goal, apart from someday having goats, is melding a winery job to research on how to improve the success rate of spontaneous ferments. When tending her Brettanomyces leaves enough time, her blog Wine-o-scope keeps notes on why being a wine geek is fun.

About The Author

Science Writer

Erika Szymanski studies wine science dissemination at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She holds Masters degrees in both microbiology and English rhetoric and composition and wants, someday, to help improve the structures through which scientists communicate with each other, industry, and the world. Erika was named 2012 Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year for her work on Palate Press.

  • Bill Sardi

    Erika, the University of Connecticut has now changed its language to tenured professor who must be allowed due process. The university has also taken its 49-page online summary of allegations against Dr. Das offline. Longevinex challenges any scientist to read any or all of the scientific papers involving Dr. Das and Longevinex and point out where the western blot tests in question would have altered the scientific conclusions made in those papers. Furthermore, if you were doing your job as a reporter, you could have called here and obtained a counter opinion instead of attempting to slander a product that was tested by the NIH itself and found to work twice as well as plain resveratrol. That the NIH validated Dr. Das’ work is overlooked. Longevinex is not under investigation — the papers Dr. Das wrote are under review. If you want to write a hit piece and gain web traffic, that is your choice. But we implore you to write a balanced and accurate story.

    • Erika Szymanski

      Mr. Sardi, I’m not terribly interested in garnering massive web traffic by being outlandish; my goal is to present balanced, useful, and interesting information. I read the Scientific Review Board report on Dr. Das’s case, looked at several of Das’s publications, and made an educated judgement that, truthfully, could have been much more pointed had I been looking for shock value. I wasn’t. I’d suggest that you redirect your obvious anger toward whomever contracted with an ethically-challenged scientist to test your products and away from those of us (here and on other websites covering the issue) who are interested simply in presenting the available information as we find it.

  • Pingback: Resveratrol Redux: The Bad and the Good | Vitabella Wine Daily Gossip | Scoop.it()

  • Tom

    Yes it’s true that I am all Italian and can be very blunt. It’s also true that my mother who I dearly love has responded very well to Longevinex for over seven years now and continues to bless me with her life and good health at age 88 next month 89. Given this fact and the fact that Erika never even met Dr. Das I must say that Erika Szymanski’s article “Resveratrol Redux” is nothing more than worthless speculation and even misrepresentation the outcome of which serves only to further confuse the public. To put it bluntly Ms Szymanski is a fool to confuse us with less than half the story. This lack of proper inquiry and research becomes malicious yellow journalism. Ignorance is no excuse as so much information is available to those who look into this subject fully. Erika, Resveratrol has been around forever in foods and herbs and has never harmed anyone. Besides your pocketbook by being paid for your words how many people have you helped? Tom

    • Erika Szymanski

      Do I really need to keep responding to you folks? I have no hidden agenda. I’m not quite sure how to interpret your last sentence (it sounds as though you mightn’t have meant what you actually wrote), but I’m paid the same relatively small sum for this as for any article written by anyone on Palate Press, and that wouldn’t have changed regardless of the perspective I took. If you have a case to make, drop the childish ad hominem arguments and move on.

      • Bill Sardi

        TIPS & ASSOCIATES
        A T T O R N E Y S A T L A W

        January 25, 2012

        Online Document Reveals U. CONN Researcher Refuted All Charges of Scientific Fraud Over 18 Months Ago
        Researcher Alleges University Destroyed All Evidence That Would Exonerate Him

        Discovery of an online document involving allegations against a University of Connecticut Health Center researcher accused of scientific fraud reveals a long-standing internal battle between the accused researcher and an administrative physician at the institution that may have resulted in false allegations being generated. That document reveals the following:
        1. Dr. Dipak Das, PhD, the accused, contends that all of the original documents involving 42 years of research, which includes images of tests known as western blots, were confiscated by a representative of the university and were destroyed. These original raw western blot images, which would serve to completely exonerate Dr. Das, are no longer available for comparison with altered images that were later published in scientific journals. This same antagonist within the university proceeded to write hundreds of letters to scientific journals and funding sources, says Dr. Das, making false allegations that “I made up all the western blot tests.”
        2. Once the original images were destroyed and could not be used for comparison in his defense, the university chose to employ software that can detect alterations to graphic images, software that has a high rate of false-positives and is not considered reliable unless original images are available for comparison purposes. Dr. Das says: “No one will use this software on the published paper unless originals are NOT available.”
        3. Moreover, the University of Connecticut’s 60,000 page damning report which accuses him of altering images in order to fraudulently gain research grant money. Dr. Das is an eminent scientist who was pre-funded by the National Institutes of Health and did not have to publish to gain grant money. He therefore lacked any financial motive whatsoever to falsify images.
        4. Dr. Das indicates, in this retrieved online document, that he never personally performed any of these western blot tests that are now in question and that the person who performed most of these tests is retired and surprisingly not on the list of researchers accused of submitting fraudulent data to scientific journals.
        5. Dr. Das then proceeded to examine the work of others in his laboratory and found their work to be “99% correct.” Dr. Das is considered an expert in reviewing research papers and had been requested to review western blot tests for various scientific journals.
        6. Contrary to what the University of Connecticut report contends, Dr. Das was not the only person who had keys to his office and that many other students and post-doctorates had access to his computer to enter results of experiments they conducted.
        7. Dr. Das categorically denies, as the university pejoratively alleges, that he “de-funded” a student because she did not produce the test results he demanded. Dr. Das only took her off of his budget because she was working exclusively for another researcher.
        8. The 60,000-page report describing the alleged scientific misconduct by Dr. Das, while only recently released to the public to put him on trial in the court of public opinion, was produced sometime in 2010; but it is unclear whether Dr. Das ever had an opportunity to even view it in its totality because he could not download it onto his computer because of its large size.
        9. The allegations against Dr. Das and his East-Indian colleagues began with a change in the administration at the university and for unknown reasons curiously only focuses on East-Indian researchers when researchers of other ethnic origins performed most of the tests now in question.
        Because of the seriousness of the charges and the fact they involve federally funded research studies, and the possibility that tissue samples as well as test data may have been intentionally destroyed by the University, it appears federal investigators need to intervene as quickly as possible.

      • Tom

        Erika, You started this by printing unsubstantiated un-proven statements about Dr Das and then you belittled him. Dr. Das is a beautiful human whose major goal in life is to help humanity live longer and healthier lives. You have no right to mislead your readers into believing that somehow Dr Das is a dishonest person trying to trick people. You don’t know this. I wrote you that my 88 year old mother has taken Longevinex for almost 8 years. I didn’t tell you that her mother died at 57 years of massive heart disease her father at 68 again heart disease and her brother who after a life of heart trouble special diets, medications and finally a 5 way bypass died at 77. I can very un scientifically say that Longevinex has not killed her yet. My mother by the way takes no medications and I am thrilled beyond words that she is still here to talk with me every day. And please don’t feel the need to respond I don’t really care what you think as long as you don’t try to mislead others into thinking you might know something about this very important subject.

        • http://ithacork.com Tom Mansell

          Tom:

          I’m glad your mother is doing well but unfortunately the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.”

          Controlled clinical trials are the only way we can really find out whether resveratrol indeed does all the miraculous things people claim it does.

          • Tom

            I Understand what you are saying Tom but I’m not waiting for all the “controlled clinical trials” because I want my mom to benefit from “potential” miraculous things now. And from what I have observed in her in terms of energy, clarity of mind and longevity I am glad we took the plunge. Besides, “Controlled clinical trials” have failed to prevent thousands upon thousands of cases of harmful side effects (suicide effects)of so many major drugs. Let’s be real here.

  • Jean Harris

    I’m a retired life scientist. I found Erika’s article perfectly fair and balanced.

    When reading Das’s papers I thought, “My, he must have a God-zillion technician’s/post-docs running around doing all those Westerns.” Well, now we know they were fabricated. I also thought, “Why isn’t this guy up with the state of the play and using micro-arrays instead of Westerns?)

    Of course Das’s fraud in one area calls all his work into question. Any objective, uninvolved person will think that. You should take that on board Mr. Sardi (and Tom), deal with it and refrain from attacking the messenger. As someone who has dealt with a dramatic case of scientific obfuscation which in the end became fraud (see paper 11641287 in PubMed and follow-ups 16685223, 17053557 and 18285611) I have no patience with your attempts to avoid fronting up. You should realize that attempting to defend the indefensible only makes you look bad. The more you do it the worse you look.

    Eugenie L Harris, PhD

    • http://ithacork.com Tom Mansell

      Jean:

      Right on. I hate doing Westerns as much as the next scientist, but when they don’t look right I don’t just cut and paste my own bands in willy-nilly.

      Cheers.

      /not “Tom” from above.

    • Tom

      I just love the way you call Dr. Das “indefensible” as if you know anything at all about the true dynamics and facts of this case. I’m overjoyed that I “look bad” to you. You look much worse to me. How many people did you help live better and longer lives with your “research”. Do you have any idea how many times pristine, FDA approved research has failed humanity and caused countless numbers of suffering and death.

  • Pingback: Resveratrol Redux: The Bad and the Good - Palate Pres | Peanuts, bioactive superfood in a shell | Scoop.it()

  • http://www.magentodeveloper.co.uk/ Rick Reeves

    I just read on a food supplements prescription about their product. They insist of adding resveratrol to be their main asset but after reading your article I am not sure if they have elaborated the negative effects of it. How can I determine it?

  • Pingback: Good Reads Wednesday « Artisan Family of Wines()