Resveratrol: does it work? - Healthy Living Association

Resveratrol: does it work?

This compound is what makes wine a great addition to a balanced diet. Resveratrol is an antioxidant known for its possible anti-aging effect, but does it work? We’ve reviewed the latest research so you can decide for yourself.

Antioxidant Supplements: What They Are and How They Work

Nowadays, we’ve all heard about antioxidants and how we’re supposed to include more of them in our diet. But do you really know how and why they work? Here are the basics you should be aware of:

Antioxidants are naturally-occurring compounds that block and slow down the oxidation process. As living beings, our bodies produce free radicals every day. In general, these free radicals help fight pathogens like bacteria and virus that might damage the body. But when the body makes too many free radicals, they start attacking our own cells and affect our metabolism. Oxygen free radicals are the most damaging, and this process is called oxidation.

Both our environment and our age affect how our bodies’ deal with free radicals and oxidation. As we grow older, oxidation increases and it slows down our body’s natural ability to repair itself. This causes aging signs and chronic illnesses, which appear faster when there are more free radicals [8].

If we lived in nature, eating seasonal produce and without stress, our bodies would have free radicals under control for longer. But our normal life exposes us to environmental free radicals on a daily basis.

Researchers now think free radicals are key in disease progression and premature aging. Luckily, oral antioxidants can slow down free radical damage and prevent cellular damage.

Where can you find antioxidants?

Today, you can find both natural and synthetic antioxidants. Synthetic ones tend to have industrial purposes, and serve to preserve food. Natural antioxidants are found everywhere: from our own bodies to fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy [3]. However, plants have the highest antioxidant concentration and should be the base of your diet if you want to fight free radicals.

Naturally-occurring antioxidants help plants protect themselves against diseases, as well as ultraviolet radiation [2]. In general, plants with vivid smell, color and flavor have more antioxidants per ounce than others. As a rule of thumb, vividly red fruits like berries, or green-leaf vegetables like kale, are higher in antioxidants than something like wheat. When we digest these compounds, we also get that protection.

Keep in mind not every part of the plant has the same antioxidant concentration. Generally speaking, the outer parts, like the peel, have more antioxidants than the inner flesh. Because of that, eating whole fruits and vegetables will provide you the most benefits.

What Is Resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in grapes, berries and, in a very small amount, peanuts. In turn, polyphenols are micronutrients with strong antioxidant properties. Researchers now know polyphenols can help prevent degenerative diseases and general aging [1]. Humans get these compounds from their diet, particularly from plants.

In nature, resveratrol is higher in grapes and its by-products, including wine. Researchers think this is one of the reasons why the French have a low rate of obesity, cancer and cardiovascular diseases [7].

But while people use it to fight cholesterol, cancer and other conditions, current clinical studies in humans are non-conclusive. Here’s what we know right now:

Does Resveratrol Really Work?

Scientific research on resveratrol is ongoing, but researchers thinks there’s promise after testing it against conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease and aging. Today we’ll cover some of the better-researched properties of resveratrol. Keep in mind it has mainly been tested in vitro and with animals, and clinical trials with people haven’t been published.

1.      Cardio-protective effect

Several research groups [2] found that resveratrol could help fight atherosclerosis. This is a chronic condition linked to cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis causes artery inflammation and the formation of plaques inside them. Luckily, a 2008 study found resveratrol helped prevent plaques, while also “relaxing” arteries to preserve healthy blood flow [7].

In fact, people eating high amounts of resveratrol had a lower chance of suffering from cardiac conditions. This is the case with the French, who in spite of eating a high-fat diet, have very low incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

2.      Neuroprotection

Drinking moderate amounts of red wine could help protect your neurons from cognitive decline. Researchers think resveratrol’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can keep your brain healthier.

Although the specifics are still being researched, a recent study found a direct link between resveratrol and Alzheimer’s. This compound prevents the formation of plaques in the brain of patients [4]. Theoretically, if doctors were able to stop those plaques from appearing, it could improve patients’ cognitive capabilities.

3.      Anti-inflammatory effects

Antioxidants like polyphenols have strong anti-inflammatory effects. Because of it, they can improve chronic conditions like arthritis, cancer and even aging. As a supplement, resveratrol has shown some promise to help protect cartilage from deteriorating. In a study with rabbits injected with resveratrol on their knees, their arthritis slowed down and they suffered less damage on the cartilages [2].

Other studies found this compound had an inflammation-fighting effect in rheumatoid arthritis patients. People dealing with chronic colitis also seemed to improve after taking it for several weeks [8].

4.      Weight control and diabetes

Diabetes causes a chronic imbalance of glucose metabolism, which in turn affects the eyes, kidneys and other functions. Even if you don’t have diabetes, unstable sugar levels cause sudden hunger that can make you overeat.

In several studies, resveratrol showed a strong anti-diabetic effect. This improved insulin sensitivity and inhibited sugar absorption [2]. On the other hand, diabetic rats with a consistent resveratrol intake had better renal function and showed less oxidative stress [6]. While human studies are still non-conclusive, it’s very possible this compound has similar effects on our body.

5.      Cancer prevention

Researchers know that people eating an antioxidant-rich diet have lower chances of getting cancer. However, we still don’t understand if this is due to one or several factors.

Despite this, scientists found polyphenols like resveratrol acted as a cancer preventative among rats with cancer. They also discovered it lowered the number of tumors as well as their growth rate [5].

Resveratrol is relatively well-researched, and it’s shown positive effects against several cancers[2]. This compound “catches” free radicals and slows down tumor growth, which could help prognosis.

Clinical trials looking for the possible cancer-fighting properties of resveratrol are still too small. Because of that, results are very limited. Luckily, this is one of the areas where there’s more research interest.

6.      Anti-aging

Like other antioxidants, resveratrol is well-known because of its touted anti-aging properties. It’s important to note that no supplement will reverse or prevent aging. However, you can minimize the look of common aging signs like wrinkles, thinning skin and brittle hair.

Since resveratrol is an antioxidant, it can help your body catch free radicals. In fact, in studies with small living beings like yeast and fruit flies, resveratrol lengthened their life [8]. While we still need more research, oral supplements could help keep your skin stay softer and youth-looking.

There are other conditions that resveratrol could help treat, but research is still very new. Among these we can count seasonal allergies and liver disease. Researchers still need to carry out further testing to know if this supplement can improve other issues.

Is Resveratrol Safe?

Overall, this is a safe supplement with no known major side effects. However, it’s important to remember that this compound is chemically related to estrogen. This means high resveratrol doses can modulate hormonal activity in unexpected ways. As such, people with breast cancer, ovary cancer or other issues might need to hold off on taking it.

Resveratrol can also slow blood clotting and increase your bleeding risk after surgery, so make sure to stop taking it at least 2 weeks in advance.

Finally, resveratrol can also increase the effectiveness of medications. This only happens with drugs that are processed in the liver, like some anti-depressants and fungicides.

Because of it, it’s important to consult with your doctor or medical team beforehand. That way, you can be sure it won’t affect any other medications you’re taking regularly.

Our verdict

If you’re looking for a way to fight off free radicals, adding resveratrol to your diet might be a good choice. Since it’s easy to find in grapes, wine and as supplement, many people take it regularly. In general, this is a great option for those looking to keep their youthful looks.

  1. Claudine Manach, Augustin Scalbert, Christine Morand, Christian Rémésy, Liliana Jiménez, Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 79, Issue 5, May 2004, Pages 727–747
  2. Pandey, K. B., & Rizvi, S. I. (2009). Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2.
  3. Karre L, Lopez K, Getty KJ. Natural antioxidants in meat and poultry products. Meat Sci. 2013 Jun;94(2):220-7. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2013.01.007. Epub 2013 Jan 29. PMID: 23501254. Available here.
  4. Brain protection
  5. Yang CS, Landau JM, Huang MT, Newmark HL. Inhibition of carcinogenesis by dietary polyphenolic compounds. Ann Rev Nutr. 2001;21:381–406.
  6. Chen WP, Chi T C, Chuang LM, Su MJ. Resveratrol enhances insulin secretion by blocking K(ATP) and K(V) channels of beta cells. Eur J Pharmacol. 2007;568:269–277.
  7. Pirola L, Frojdo S. Resveratrol: One Molecule, Many Targets. IUBMB Life. 2008;60:323–332.
  8. Alarcón de la Lastra, C. and Villegas, I. (2005), Resveratrol as an anti‐inflammatory and anti‐aging agent: Mechanisms and clinical implications. Mol. Nutr. Food Res., 49: 405-430.

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