The benefits of resveratrol have received more media and marketing coverage than any other nutrient this decade.
In 2003 Sirtris Pharmaceuticals announced that resveratrol (found in the skins of red grapes) extended longevity in animal studies and published their research in the journal Nature.
In 2006 Sirtris’ David Sinclair, Ph.D., announced that resveratrol was able to counteract the ill health effects of a high fat diet in mice. Mice feed a high fat diet plus 22mg/kg resveratrol lived as long as mice fed a standard diet.
Had they discovered the reason behind the “French Paradox” i.e. why the French had lower rates of cardiovascular disease despite eating a high fat diet while consuming red wine?
The thought of having a potential anti-aging/cardiac blockbuster on their hands was enough for GlaxoSmithKline to snatched them up for a cool acquisition price of $270 million in 2007.
So where do things stand now?
Are the benefits of resveratrol significant enough that you should include it as your anti-aging supplement?
With about 100 million Americans suffering from coronary vascular disease (CVD), estimated to cause 39% of all deaths, it is no surprise that we continue to seek new therapies to reduce morbidity and mortality.
An increasing body of evidence continues to support the notion that resveratrol is the primary compound responsible for red wine’s cardioprotective effects.
The alcohol content of wine is about 11-14% and also contains many polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. Because resveratrol is found in the skins of grapes, and red wine has more contact with its skin during the fermentation process (vs white wine), red wine seems to have more cardiac benefits than other types of alcohol.
Current animal studies suggest that resveratrol, acting as a polyphenol antioxidant, may help prevent damage to blood vessels, prevent clotting, reduce the bad cholesterol LDL, and increasing HDL.
Fountain of Youth?
Are animal study results applicable to humans?
GlaxoSmithKline was hoping to develop a family of drugs that target the sirtuins, a group of seven enzymes associated with the aging process. Could resveratrol be the key ingredient?
GSK continued their research with resveratrol (compound SRT501) with subjects suffering from multiple myeloma (a form of blood cancer) but then stopped clinical trials in 2010 due to side effects (mostly GI related). Sirtris currently has several other proprietary formulations of resveratrol in trials to determine any longevity and anti-aging effects. The benefits of resveratrol are being explored as both a single agent and in adjunct/combination therapy.
The Medical Letter Sept 21, 2009 issue, reviewed the animal studies and concluded that “resveratrol appears to produce some of the same effects as calorie-restricted diets that have reduced the incidence of age related diseases in animals. Whether it has any benefit in humans remains to be established.”
Longevity trials in humans would have to be long-term studies to produce any meaningful results. It this time no claim can be made that the benefits of resveratrol include human life extension, although the possibility exists.
Resveratrol for Diabetes
At the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, Dr. Jill Crandall, an endocrinologist, made an interesting find with diabetes.
She conducted a study in which the supplementation of resveratrol increased insulin sensitivity in human subjects suffering from impaired glucose tolerance, also known as pre-diabetes.
Also from the Global Diabetes Initiative at Einstein, Dr. Meredith Hawkins demonstrated similar results on the effects of resveratrol on middle-aged, overweight patients who were insulin resistant. Dr. Hawkins’ study showed that a 40% increase in insulin sensitivity, as well as improved mitochondrial function may prove that resveratrol supplementation could serve as a therapy for this condition.
In 2011, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers from the UT Health Science Center San Antonio reported that resveratrol had anti-insulin, anti-obesity, and anti-aging properties.
All these findings may provide important stepping stones for the further development of novel, therapeutic agents to treat both obesity and diabetes.
Benefits of Resveratrol: Understanding Antioxidants
Cancer Benefits of Resveratrol
The October 2011 issue of FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) published an article that showed resveratrol stops breast cancer cells from growing by blocking effects of estrogen.
This was the first study of its kind to show that benefits of resveratrol include the ability to counteract the malignant progression due to its inhibition of hormone resistant breast cancer cell proliferation.
Previous lab studies had raised the concern that resveratrol, with its phytoestrogenic effects, might actually stimulate hormone sensitive breast cancer cells. Therefore, women at high risk of breast cancer should not consume resveratrol without consulting with their physician.
In February 2011, researchers Charis Eng et al from the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute discovered that resveratrol when combined with the immunosuppressant drug rapamycin, can have tumor suppressing effects on breast cancer cells that are resistant to rapamycin alone.
Could a possible future therapy protocol include the glass of red wine before rapamycin? An interesting concept, especially in this era of cost-effective health care.
In either case, please always consult with your physician before starting any supplements. Individual cancer cells and their management may vary greatly.
The August 2011 issue Journal of Carcinogenesis published an article from researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In this study, mice that were fed resveratrol over the course of seven months had the highest prostate cancer-protection effects. As in other studies, this demonstrates that the benefits of resveratrol include the powerful chemoprevention properties.
The amounts used in this mouse study used a resveratrol dose that would be the equivalent to a bottle of wine per day. Obviously, this would not be advisable and additional human trials would be needed to determine efficacy & safety in human subjects.
The New York Langone Medical Center has conducted several animal studies which suggest that resveratrol doses up to 500mg might be safe and potent.
As you read through various animal studies there is often a misinterpretation of what the human equivalent dose (HED) would be. In Dr. Sinclair’s original research with mice he used a dose of 22.4mg/kg. This does not mean that you should multiple 22.4mg by your own kg weight.
Instead, the basis of dose conversion is actually determined by body surface area rather than weight. This means that a 130 lb. (60kg) human would receive a dose of 109mg, and not 1,344mg (22.4 x 60kg).
Current estimations are that resveratrol doses of 10-100mg may be sufficient. Doses over 150mg are unproven for long term use.
And how much resveratrol can you get from your red wine?
Red wines can vary between 0.2-5.8mg/L depending on the grape variety and where it was grown. The resveratrol content in red wine seems to be higher in those grapes grown in cooler climates. This may be due to a higher exposure to fungus and molds which produces higher resveratrol levels in response to the grape’s own protective mechanism.
Other sources providing the benefits of resveratrol include ligonberry, cranberries, mulberry, and peanuts. Eat your berries fresh since cooking or heating will contribute to the degradation of resveratrol – it may reduce it by as much as half!
Resveratrol may decrease the effects of anticoagulants such as warfarin/Coumadin, and could increase the risk of bleeding.
The best advice is always to enjoy a variety of foods in your diet. If you feel it necessary to supplement then please start with a conservative dose (10-50mg), especially if you are planning on supplementing long-term. As additional human studies are conducted these figures may be revised.
And remember that more is not better when it comes to your wine consumption. Men should limit their intake to no more than 2 glasses per day, women should limit it to one 5 oz. glass (non-pregnant/nursing).