Nature’s Hidden Healer

Stay young and healthy with resveratrol
By Samantha Fischer

That glass of red wine might offer more benefits to your health than you thought. Resveratrol, an antioxidant compound present in many berries and plants—most abundantly in red grape skins—is said to have healing properties ranging from lowering the risk of heart disease and some cancers to aiding in antidepressive behavior and aging.

Resveratrol occurs naturally in red and black grape skins (that means you, red wine!), peanuts, dark chocolate, various berries and herbs, and Japanese knotweed. You can also get your dose of resveratrol through nutritional supplements.

METABOLIC DISEASES

In the 1990s, scientists began researching resveratrol’s effects on metabolic conditions that tend to develop as we age, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In animal studies, researchers found that severely restricting calories can help prevent these diseases—and they noted that resveratrol had the capability to mimic calorie restriction, thus also aiding in maintaining a healthy weight. In an issue of the journal Nature, scientists revealed that resveratrol extended the life of animals eating a high-calorie diet, while also showing actual health improvements.

Another study by the University of Ulm in Germany showed that resveratrol was able to hinder fat cell formation; it prevented the cells from multiplying and maturing. The researchers also found that resveratrol reduced the production of certain types of cytokines (inflammatory compounds) that are prevalent in obesity-related diseases such as those mentioned previously.

AILMENTS CAUSED BY AGING

The “French Paradox”—a phenomenon that examines the fact that, despite their high-fat diets and high percentage of smokers, the French have shown a low incidence of cardiovascular disease and age-related cognitive decline—could prove to be an effect of high red wine consumption.

In a study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, resveratrol was shown to stimulate production of a serum called SIRT1 that blocks diseases by speeding up the cell’s mitochondria, something usually associated with younger cells. SIRT1 repairs damage done by free radicals and prevents cells from dying prematurely. It reduces inflammation and oxidative stress—two primary causes of aging.

Resveratrol has also been effective in animal studies, affecting the formation of various types of cancer cells. In a study by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, scientists discovered that a combination of resveratrol, n-acetyll-cysteine (NAC, an amino acid), melatonin, and lipoic acid triggered the body’s natural protective mechanisms and greatly reduced the formation of cancer cells. Some cancers that have been studied in conjunction with resveratrol include breast, prostate, melanoma, pancreatic, and ovarian.

DOSAGE

Like a lot of other nutritional supplements, resveratrol is not regulated by the FDA. This makes it hard to know precisely what you’re getting in the bottle. It’s also hard to pinpoint an exact dosage because so little research has actually been conducted on primates and humans vs. lab animals. The results of the animal studies, however, suggest a dose of 250 to 500 mg daily would be a safe and potent amount for people to take via supplement.

Another way to get resveratrol in your system is through grape seed extract. Resveratrol in grape seeds has been studied for its therapeutic properties. It can be taken via supplement—tablets, capsules, or liquid extract—and its recommended daily dose is 25 to 150 mg.

SIDE EFFECTS

Resveratrol has a relatively low potential for side effects, but it may have negative interactions with some medications. Mixed with blood thinners like Coumadin and anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen, resveratrol can increase the risk for bleeding because of its natural blood pressure-lowering and anticoagulant effects.

Resveratrol is also not recommended for women with a history of estrogen-sensitive cancers such as breast, ovarian, or uterine. Studies have shown that resveratrol activates estrogen-responsive reporter genes and endogenous estrogen-related genes, which may promote the growth of breast cancer cells. Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should also avoid resveratrol—the safety of the compound during pregnancy and lactation has not fully been explored.

In more rare incidents, people who use resveratrol have reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as upset stomachs, cramping, and diarrhea. Resveratrol users have also experienced joint pain and tendinitis. It is to be noted that dietary supplements affect every person differently, and it’s always recommended to speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement.

If you aren’t sold on taking resveratrol supplements, safe bets for enjoying the ample health benefits of this antioxidant include eating fresh grapes and berries, peanuts, and indulging in some dark chocolate or a glass of red wine from time to time. Always drink in moderation—too much alcohol will have adverse effects.