What is Resveratrol?
I am sure that you have heard that a glass of red wine a day is good for the heart and scientists have long been interested in the apparent good health of cultures like the French who typically drink more of it than others. But what exactly is it about red wine that makes it a healthy tipple?
The answer is believed to be linked to its high resveratrol content. Resveratrol belongs to a group of plan based compounds known as polyphenols thought to have natural antioxidant properties. These antioxidants perform a vital role in protecting us from an array of diseases.
Antioxidants can slow cellular damage such as heart disease and cancer and also slow down many of the signs of aging like wrinkles and skin damage. Red grapes are a very rich source of resveratrol but it is also present in other fruits such as cranberries, mulberries and raspberries as well as peanuts and cocoa.
Because of its growing reputation and the increase in scientific interest, resveratrol supplements are becoming more popular. Companies selling these supplements promise a variety of health benefits ranging from weight loss to protection from heart disease and greater longevity. How many of these claims are true and are any of them exaggerated?
1) Resveratrol and Weight Loss
A recent article published in one of the UKs more serious newspapers, the Daily Telegraph caused quite a stir especially for those of us who are looking to control their weight and are not willing to forego some of our favorite treats.
The article’s title “How to lose weight – drink plenty of red wine” sounds like the perfect diet plan for many people and I’ll admit that it made me take notice but is it too good to be true? Sadly, like many things that sound too good to be true, this one is probably no exception especially when you look at the research on which the article was based.
This does not mean that resveratrol is no good for you but glugging down the red wine is unlikely to see the pounds falling off. In fact, considering a bottle of red wine has some 570 calories it is likely to have the opposite effect.
The study quoted in the article was published in 2015 and conducted on mice rather than humans. It demonstrated that high doses of resveratrol caused brown fat cells to develop in white fat tissues of mice and while researchers hoped a similar response could occur in people, there is no evidence that it would. (1)
Adults have very little of the brown fat referred to especially compared with mice and a build-up of white fat is the cause of obesity. Finding a method of transforming white fat into brown fat which burns calories more quickly could help tackle obesity. The goal of the study was to try and stimulate the development of brown fat cells.
The researchers concluded that resveratrol could actually stimulate the development of brown fat cells in mice but it is difficult to know whether a similar effect would be seen in humans. The researchers also pointed out that the amount of resveratrol present in red wine is a tiny fraction of that found in fresh grapes or berries and that you would have to drink a huge quantity of red wine to match the equivalent dose of resveratrol receive by the mice in the study.
While there is no evidence that red wine or even resveratrol itself can help you to lose weight, many proponents suggest that it can. Nobody seems certain of the mechanisms involved but it has been suggested that resveratrol can stimulate a gene called the SIRT1 gene which is the same gene activated by people on calorie controlled diets.
Some people say that this gene helps stimulate the body’s stores of fat so they are used for energy. It is also claimed that because resveratrol is an antioxidant that it can imitate the feeling of being full meaning that you will consume fewer calories throughout the day.
2) Resveratrol and Heart health
Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the world and according to studies resveratrol may offer some effective protection and ensure that your heart remains strong and healthy. It can help reduce cholesterol levels including LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol and has natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can protect the heart.
A study published in 2006 found that resveratrol prevented atherosclerosis, reduced heart arrhythmia and protected the heart through preconditioning. (2)
And this is good news for wine drinkers, a Canadian study also demonstrated that drinking red wine in moderation had a protective effect against heart disease and atherosclerosis or the build-up of plaques in the arterial walls which reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by around 30%. (3)
3) Cognitive health and Resveratrol
Studies have consistently showed that resveratrol could have a positive effect on the brain’s health including memory, focus and learning. It is also possible that resveratrol has neuroprotective effects that can protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Studies show that resveratrol improves blood flow in the brain which helps protect against both vascular dementia and stroke. (4) Studies on rats have shown that resveratrol improves memory and learning abilities in rodents with vascular dementia because it reduces oxidative stress within the brain. (5)
Recent studies have shown that resveratrol has the potential to treat Alzheimer’s. One clinical study published in 2015 used 119 subjects with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s and the results proved very promising. Patients treated with high doses of resveratrol over a year demonstrated improved biomarkers compared with the placebo group. (6)
4) Resveratrol for Cancer Protection
Being a potent antioxidant, resveratrol may be able to protect against cancer by repairing cellular damage before cancer takes a hold. Because of this, many people be4lieve resveratrol may have anticancer potential.
There is very little data available but a recent French study found that it could slow the production and spread of colon cancer cells making it a potential alternative anticancer agent. (7)
5) Eye Health and Resveratrol
As we get older, we are more prone to eye damage which results in poorer vision. Many foods are known to be good for your eye health especially those rich in beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E.
A recent study by researchers in Missouri showed that resveratrol could protect your eye health by regulating angiogenesis and preventing the growth of abnormal blood vessels which can damage eyesight. (8)
6) Resveratrol and Testosterone Boost
As you approach middle age, your testosterone levels begin to decline and which can cause numerous issues including sexual dysfunction. A Korean study conducted with mice found that resveratrol could increase testosterone levels significantly while also improving sperm count and sperm motility. Unfortunately, there are no studies demonstrating similar effects on human subjects.
7) Resveratrol For Increased Endurance
Whether you are a serious athlete or you are trying to increase your performance levels, resveratrol may be able to supply you with the boost you need. A Canadian study published in 2012 found that supplementing with resveratrol resulted in significantly greater endurance, improved cardiac function and improved oxidative metabolism. (10)
How to Take Resveratrol
While resveratrol is present in red wine, doctors are usually reluctant to recommend that you consume too much alcohol because of the many problems that may arise from overdoing it. However, there is plenty of evidence that drinking wine in moderation can confer many health benefits especially on the heart. Drinking grape or berry juice is a healthier and safer way of getting more resveratrol into your system.
Resveratrol is also present in the skin of grapes especially purple and red grapes. You can also get resveratrol from berries like raspberries and cranberries.
You should be able to get plenty of resveratrol from your diet but if for some reason you can’t, then resveratrol supplements are an option though experts say that many of the resveratrol from supplements does not get efficiently absorbed.