A Glass of Red Wine Does NOT Equal An Hour In The Gym!
Recently I have been seeing a lot of headlines suggesting that ‘a glass of red wine equals an hour in the gym’, or ‘Science says you can skip the gym and drink wine instead‘. This is probably the worst case of mass media misreporting scientific findings that I have ever seen. These outcomes don’t even come close to sharing the actual findings of the study and quite possibly, report the exact opposite!
All of these reports back to a 2012 study done at the University of Alberta, but the recent reports all seem to reference an article by the Huffington Post.
The most recent report is by HuffPost UK, and it came out in March of 2015. In fact, most of the reports link directly to the HuffPost UK article above. There are literally thousands of these reports and they are mostly from Radio Stations. Apparently there is some sort of network of radio stations and the reports that they share.
How could a 3 year old study be making such a resurgence? I don’t know. Did we miss the meaning of the original study? This is probably the most egregious example of people misinterpreting science that I have ever seen. This is so bad as to make me despise media even more than I ever thought possible.
First Rule of Scientific Reporting:
First and foremost, I want to say to EVERYONE who has reported this story in mainstream media, NEVER report on a scientific study without first reading the study yourself. This is the first rule of scientific reporting and it can never be forgotten or missed! There is no exception. If the report has been published in a scientific journal you can get a hold of it. It may cost $20, but your publisher will pick up that cost. If I, a lowly blogger will often bother to buy the study then you, a paid journalist should be more than willing to do the same. If it isn’t available in a peer reviewed journal then it isn’t worth reporting on. If you can get a copy of the original study, then feel free to analyze it and share it. If you can’t, do not lend it any credence by reporting on it at all!
You cannot know much about the outcome of a study if you haven’t read the methods involved. That is fundamental to science. Please take this to heart. If you don’t understand science, please don’t report on it, or take the time to learn about it. This constant misinterpretation of scientific findings in the mass media has made everyone skeptical of science, which is unfortunate, because it should have made everyone skeptical of mass media.
The Truth Behind The Study
The main reason you need to read a scientific study is analyze the methods used in a study. How sound were they? Did they have a control group? How did they manipulate the dependent variable? How did they control the independent variables? These are always difficult questions and in almost all research on humans, they are handled with difficult compromises, none of which are perfect. In the case of this study, the subjects were rats. It is pretty easy to manipulate variables in a rat.
In any case, why I bring this up, is that the idea of the data of a study, any study, is how applicable is the research to the general public as a whole. From your standpoint, how applicable is the outcome to you? A middle aged white female, an older black male, a young asian woman… whatever you are, how likely are you to get the results of the study if you follow their protocol? There are mathematical ways to try to determine how a study relates to the population as a whole depending on the control groups. When these control groups are animals, we have to accept that this research is early and may or may not relate to humans. There are areas that humans relate to animals well, and there are areas that we relate poorly to them. As well, different types of animals are better surrogates for humans. Rats aren’t the best.
Still, when doing early research rats are a good starting point. As a blogger, I would never take a study with animals to say anything specific about humans though. I would say something like, ‘Early research in animals looks promising for continuing research into the benefits of reseravatrol’, or something to that effect.
So, I went back and found the study. It is here. I read it. It is an excellent study. Not only did they do a great job of randomizing and creating control groups, they used protocols that had been developed over years of previous testing, allowing this research to build on the knowledge developed with exercise physiology and rats. It is a great study to read, but the most important thing you will find are the charts. They even allow you to download them.
This is the simplest and most important chart by the way. It quite simply shows the outcome of the study based based on 7 different measurements. There are 4 groups of rats. 2 groups of 2 rats. 1 group exercised and the other group didn’t. Within each of those groups, there were rats that ate resveratrol with their feed and rats that didn’t. The charts are broken down into sedentary and Exercise Training groups (ET). In each chart you can see the white column, which is standard feed and the black column, which is resveratrol with the feed. So, when you look at the charts, A is the body weight of the rats. You can see both of the sedentary rats ended up weighing significantly more than the exercising rats over time. Chart B is probably the most significant as it shows the maximum time that the rats could run before giving up (when they say giving up by the way, the rats had to get off the treadmill and get electric shocks without getting back on… now that is giving up). Again, you can clearly see the difference in grouping. The sedentary rats, regardless of whether they had resveratrol or not, did not do as well as the exercising rats. Not even close! What is interesting to see though, is that the rats did better on resveratrol then they did without it. When resveratrol was combined with exercise though, you did see very significant increases in output. This is what the scientists were most excited about, but still, even a small increase without exercise is pretty cool. Table C says pretty much the same thing as it is the distance the rats ran before quitting. The remaining tests measured muscle growth and reactions and you can see an even stronger grouping of exercise producing remarkable results and resveratrol producing even less results. The thing that excited the scientists the most, or the future issues they thought of pursing was this:
Taken together, our data show that RESV optimizes fatty acid metabolism, which may contribute to the increased contractile force response of skeletal muscles and improved parameters of cardiac structure and function. As such, these RESV-induced adaptations are likely to contribute to the improved endurance capacity of ET rats and we conclude from these findings that dietary supplementation of RESV during exercise improves exercise performance beyond exercise alone. This strategy may have clinical utility in many situations where improved physical performance needs to be augmented due to the patient’s inability to perform intense exercise.
They think that patients who cannot exercise to their full capacity could benefit from resveratrol supplementation because it appears to increase the benefit of exercise in rats. That is all this study showed and that is the future takeaway for future studies.
How do you get from there to here?
How do you get from that finding to drinking wine is equivalent to an hour in the gym? I have no idea. There are other problems too. How much resveratrol were the rats getting? It was probably 1000 times what you find in a glass of wine. Wine is a terrible source of resveratrol. Resveratrol supplements are actually made from Japanese Knotweed, an invasive species most of the world over. It looks like the amount of resveratrol used for the rats would be equivalent to about 11 and a half grams in a 175 pound person. Given that you get between 2 and 7 milligrams of resveratrol in a liter of wine, you can see that this study has nothing to do with red wine (white wine has 1/4 the resveratrol of red), which it never claimed it did. To get these levels you would have to take supplements.
How most of the articles in the press get written and get written wrong is from the press release announcing the findings. In this case, here is the press release from June 19, 2012. The press release doesn’t ever suggest that drinking red wine would ever equal an hour in the gym, but here is the most damning part of it:
“We were excited when we saw that resveratrol showed results similar to what you would see from extensive endurance exercise training,” says Dyck, who works in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry as a researcher in the department of Pediatrics and the department of Pharmacology. “We immediately saw the potential for this and thought that we identified ‘improved exercise performance in a pill.’ ”
From there someone got the science all wrong and then thousands of people went on to re-report this. I believe it is trending on facebook as well.
In fact, as of January of this year the university sent out a notice to tell people how wrong they got the report:
In light of recent social media coverage of a three-year-old study performed by Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researcher Jason Dyck, several misinterpretations have been highlighted that need to be corrected:
Red wine is no excuse not to hit the gym, period. The study, which was published in the Journal of Physiology and later appeared in Science Daily in 2012, demonstrated that a natural compound, resveratrol, which is found in some fruits, nuts (and yes, in red wine), enhances exercise training and performance. The study does not advocate avoiding exercise; instead, Dyck says, “I think resveratrol could help patient populations who want to exercise but who are physically incapable. Resveratrol could mimic exercise for them or improve the benefits of the modest amount of exercise that they can do.”
“If you’re drinking red wine to get resveratrol, you would have to drink anywhere from 100 to 1,000 bottles per day,” he adds.
The most disturbing thing I found in this entire process is that many of the actual reports stating that an hour of exercise = 1 glass of red wine actually linked to the report of how wrong people are, rather than the study itself. That is how I found the notice in the first place.
I actually think that Dyck’s claim, “I think resveratrol could help patient populations who want to exercise but who are physically incapable. Resveratrol could mimic exercise for them or improve the benefits of the modest amount of exercise that they can do.”, might be overselling the effects of resveratrol. In his defense, the results do support this, but in my defense, this is still a rat study.