What Is It?
Resveratrol is a new and very popular supplement currently recommended by nutritionally oriented physicians, including myself, as a very potent antioxidant that may have potential as an anticancer and cardioprotective compound..
Resveratrol is found in the skins of red grapes and is, therefore, a component of red wine. It is also found in purple grape juice, berries such as blueberries, cranberries, and raspberries, and in smaller amounts in peanuts. In the 1990s, the compound began to attract attention as an explanation of the so-called “French paradox,” namely the low incidence of heart disease among French people despite their diet high in saturated fats.
While resveratrol may not be responsible for the “French paradox,” some studies have shown that it has definite antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties important in both treating and preventing treating cancer and heart disease. Some scientists also believe resveratrol may extend lifespan, triggering an ‘anti-aging’ gene, but so far studies have been limited to animals.
Specifically, resveratrol may help to:
Prevent and treat cancer. Scientists suggest that resveratrol is unique because it has the ability to battle cancer at the three steps of the cancer process. At the first cancer phase, called ‘initiation,’ animal studies have shown resveratrol reduces the risk of developing cancer by inhibiting tumor growth and by promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death). If cell death fails to occur, cancer cells can form. A 1997 study in cancer-prone mice found that resveratrol acted as an antioxidant, anti-mutagen, and anti-inflammatory agent to inhibit the occurrence of skin tumors. The second phase, ‘tumor growth’ has also been inhibited by reservatrol. In one study, rats that had been inoculated with fast-growing tumors showed a significant decrease (25%) in tumor cell content after being treated with resveratrol due to apoptosis of the tumor cells. A 2004 study comparing the effects of several compounds, including resveratrol, found them to be more effective in suppressing cancer than conventional medications. Resveratrol, as well as curcumin, celecoxib (Celebrex), and tamoxifen, were found to be the most potent anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative agents of those tested. Additional studies have shown that resveratrol inhibits growth and induces death of ovarian and breast cancer cells, that it may prevent liver cancer cells from invading adjacent tissues, and also that it has positive effects on several other cancers, including leukemia and colon, esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
Improve cardiovascular health. Clinical studies have shown that high consumption of resveratrol-rich foods may result in lowered total cholesterol, lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reduced cardiovascular disease risk. Resveratrol is may be the ingredient responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effects of red wine, and resveratrol’s antioxidant properties may be the mechanism at work in reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. When LDL undergoes oxidation, this chemical alteration causes it to stick to arterial walls and gradually form plaque. The plaque build-up clogs the arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. Therefore, the ability of resveratrol to reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol may have very important implications in heart disease prevention. Two other important aspects about reservatrol and heart disease prevention. First, resveratrol’s ability to prevent the clumping together of blood platelets, which can lead to potentially deadly blood clots. Second, reservatrol may be acting as an anti-inflammatory agent (similar to aspirin). Recent research confirms that reducing inflammation may be actually more important in heart disease prevention than simply reducing cholesterol alone.
Expand lifespan. Research in animals indicates resveratrol improves factors associated with longer lifespan. In 2006, a study at the Harvard Medical School showed that resveratrol counteracted the effects of a high-calorie, high-fat diet in mice. The mice were divided into groups and were fed either a standard diet or a high-fat diet. The mice on the high-fat diet consumed about 30% more calories than those on the standard diet. Some mice also received resveratrol, which along with either diet led to a 30% lower risk of death than the mice on the high-fat diet without resveratrol
Researchers at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in France subsequently found resveratrol increased physical endurance. In this 2006 study, mice given resveratrol ran twice as far as ordinary laboratory mice before collapsing from exhaustion. The mice treated with resveratrol also had energy-charged muscles and reduced heart rates similar to trained athletes. The researchers also examined the effects of resveratrol in a group of Finnish subjects and found the same gene regulatory mechanism may work in humans. While previous studies used dosages in mice that would require humans to drink more than 100 bottles of red wine a day to achieve the same results, a 2008 study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that lower doses of resveratrol (the equivalent to 35 bottles of day in humans) produced the same beneficial effects in mice. In supplement form, researchers say, resveratrol may be able to mimic the effects of a calorie-restricted diet at safe and effective doses for humans.