The Health Benefits of Resveratrol

Resveratrol offers anti-cancer, anti-aging, and heart healthy benefits

resveratrol from red grapes
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If you're a red wine fan, you have resveratrol to thank for its health benefits. Not only is resveratrol found in red wine, grapes, some berries, and peanuts, but it can be taken as a supplement as well. Resveratrol is a compound found in these plant foods that acts like an antioxidant in the body.

Primarily found in the skins of grapes, red wine has a particularly high concentration of resveratrol. In supplement form, the extracts are derived from an Asian plant called Polygonum cuspidatum. Consuming resveratrol through food or supplements is linked to a number of health benefits including protecting brain function, lowering blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol.

Most of the research done on resveratrol has been in animal and test tube studies using very high amounts. Of the human studies conducted, most have used the supplement form of resveratrol, which is in a concentrated form higher than you would get through food. While these results are promising, more research needs to be done on humans before recommending resveratrol supplementation for certain health conditions.

Health Benefits

While there are several known health benefits of resveratrol, it is important to note that there is limited research done in humans to make conclusive recommendations. Still, there may be benefit to taking a supplement and including foods high in resveratrol in your diet.

May Promote Heart Health

Due its antioxidant properties, resveratrol has many heart health promoting benefits. Research shows that resveratrol plays a role in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol while nitric oxide helps blood vessels relax.

It is thought that resveratrol helps the body to produce more nitric oxide, therefore, creating a blood pressure lowering effect. More research needs to be done to determine what specific dose of the resveratrol supplement is needed to assist in lowering blood pressure.

May Help Lower Cholesterol

There also is evidence to suggest that resveratrol helps to lower cholesterol levels by blunting the effect of the enzyme that promotes cholesterol production.

In one mouse study, the researchers fed the mice a high protein, high polyunsaturated fat diet in addition to giving them resveratrol supplements. At the end of the study, the mice's average total cholesterol levels decreased and their HDL or "good" cholesterol increased. It not possible to make recommendations for humans based on studies in mice, though.

May Promote Brain Health

Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds are known to protect the brain and slow down cognitive decline and resveratrol is no exception. Many studies suggest that drinking red wine can slow age-related cognitive decline.

One study examined the role the compound plays in setting off a chain of events in the body that protects the brain cells from damage. The study showed that resveratrol interferes with beta-amyloids, which are protein fragments that form plaques indicating the development of Alzheimer's disease.

While these studies are promising, researchers are still unclear on how effective a resveratrol supplement is on brain health, which limits any conclusive recommendations for widespread use.

May Slow Cancer Growth

Additionally, resveratrol has been extensively studied in test tubes and animals for its potential role in helping to prevent and treat cancer, yielding mixed results. Resveratrol may inhibit cancer cell growth.

It also may change gene expression in cancer cells to slow their growth, and interfere with the way hormones are expressed to prevent certain cancers from spreading. Much more research needs to be done in humans before any recommendations for human cancer treatment can be made.

Possible Side Effects

There are no known side effects or allergic reactions to eating foods with resveratrol or taking supplements. If you are allergic to foods containing resveratrol—like grapes or wine—you may have a reaction.

Resveratrol may be contraindicated in people with bleeding disorders taking anticoagulates, such as heparin or warfarin, as well as blood pressure medications, cancer treatments, and NSAIDs. Resveratrol also could interact with medications like blood thinners, blood pressure drugs, antidepressants, antiviral, antifungal, immunosuppressants and other supplements.

Additionally, older research indicates that resveratrol blocks the enzyme that helps some compounds clear from the body, including blood pressure medications, anxiety medications, and immunosuppressants. This can cause these medications to build up to unsafe levels.

Resveratrol supplements also are not recommended for children or individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Always speak with a healthcare provider before beginning any supplements.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough conclusive evidence to determine a dosage recommendation for resveratrol supplements in order to gain health benefits. As with many supplements, resveratrol is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most supplements sold contain 250 to 500 milligrams, but this is a lower dose than is studied and what research has shown to be helpful.

Some people may wonder if they should drink more red wine to gain additional health benefits. The American Heart Association continues to recommend limiting alcoholic beverages to one per day for women and two per day for men. You can certainly include food sources of resveratrol such as grapes, grape juice, peanuts, cocoa, and berries, to your diet, but amounts to achieve a health benefit are unknown.

What to Look For

When choosing a resveratrol supplement, be sure to look for one that has trans resveratrol. This is the active ingredient that delivers health benefits. Also, look for a supplement that indicates it has been manufactured in an FDA registered facility observing Good Manufacturing Practice. Look for a seal that says it has been laboratory tested for purity and potency.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is trans-resveratrol?

    Trans-resveratrol is the active ingredient found in the resveratrol supplement. Resveratrol refers to the generic product name of the supplement or compound found in food. Resveratrol is found in different levels of purity where trans-resveratrol contains 99% of the active ingredient.

  • Which red wine has the most resveratrol?

    Malbec wine is the highest in resveratrol content because Malbec grapes have the thickest skin. Other red wines high in resveratrol are Petite Sirah, St. Laurent, and Pinot Noir.

  • When should I take resveratrol?

    Resveratrol is most commonly consumed in a small amounts through foods such as grapes, berries, and wine. Supplements can be taken at any time of day.

  • What is pterostilbene?

    Pterostilbene is a polyphenol very similar to resveratrol. It contains a structural difference that allows more efficient metabolism by the body and it crosses cell membranes more easily. Scientists think that pterostilbene may be more potent than resveratrol while offering the same health benefits, but more research needs to be done.

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