In short: Reputed to be the secret behind the "French Paradox", this naturally-occurring chemical in grapes, peanuts and other plants is a potent antioxidant that works well in concert with other common antioxidants, and might be able to replicate the life-extending effects of a calorie-restricted diet.
The French Paradox
What if you could capture the life-extending properties of the French diet and put it in a bottle? Well, many residents of Bordeaux and Burgundy (not to mention Oregon and upstate New York) would argue that you can. The secret, they and many scientists say, is red wine. In particular, one component is the subject of increasing research as a life-extending nutritional miracle: resveratrol.
Naturally occurring in dark grape skins and seeds, peanuts, and Japanese knotweed (a fixture in Chinese and eastern medicines for centuries as a cure for heart and liver maladies), among other plants, resveratrol is produced by plants to help fend off attack from molds and other pathogens. As a consequence, its presence in grapes is proportional to the molds, yeasts and other environmental pressures that exert an oxidizing attack on the fruit. Cold, moldy climates (such as Bordeaux in France and Willamette Valley in Oregon, both in river valleys) produce grapes with higher resveratrol content than dry, temperate California or Australia. Unusually harsh, penetrating heat can produce high-resveratrol vintages, as can damage from hailstones (I'm not making this up!). Scientists suspect that resveratrol's ability to ward off oxidative damage is not limited to the grape itself--it can do the same for those of us who consume it.
Scientific support for resveratrol
More and more research supports resveratrol's benefit to animal health. Preliminary tests were on the lowly yeast (a single cell creature, but about 70% of its genes are similar to ours), and resveratrol-treated yeast were able to replicate (reproduce) 15 times more than average before they died of old age. Subsequent experiments on fruit flies, worms and fish confirmed the natural compound's ability to not only extend lifespans, but to delay the debilitating effects of aging. In the recent fish study, the fish fed resveratrol not only lived 50% longer than unsupplemented fish, older fish exhibited a degree of vivaciousness and mental acuity of fish much younger. Female fish fed resveratrol were even reproducing, with healthy offspring, after the control group of fish were already dead.
David Sinclair discusses resveratrol research with Barbara Walters (video)
Tests on mammals
The most newsworthy research recently has been on mice. A Harvard University study led by David Sinclair, used 3 groups of mice as its subjects:
- a control group, fed a normal diet
- a test group fed a high-calorie diet
- a second test group also fed a high-calorie diet, but with high doses of resveratrol
Naturally, the high-calorie mice groups experienced obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, while the normal diet mice did not. What was surprising, though, was that the second test group (which got resveratrol) lived as long as the control group, while the first test group died much younger.
A second study, conducted by Johan Auwerx and his colleagues at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in Illkirch, France, found that resveratrol significantly increased the endurance of test mice, by increasing the density of mitochondria in their cells.
Moving up the food chain to us, the expectations are obviously not conclusive yet, although resveratrol's ability to help mice (mammals strikingly similar to us genetically speaking) and not only single-cellular yeasts portends well, and again, we have the French Paradox to suggest something good about red wine. Let's face it-fatty cheeses, bread, cigarettes and foie gras are not likely the secrets behind French longevity.
Will it work on us?
No one knows. Brent Bauer, director of the complementary and integrative medicine program at the Mayo Clinic says, "The right place now with resveratrol is to say that this is really intriguing data, but mice aren't humans."
However, since humans have 70+ year lifespans, it will be quite some time before we know anything conclusive for humans. And, resveratrol has been shown to drastically increase lifespans in all animals it's been tested on, from yeast, to fruit flies, to fish, and now to mice. Tellingly, Dr David Sinclair mentions in the Charlie Rose clip above that he's been taking resveratrol for the past three years...although, of course, he cautions that no one needs to be taking it.
Personally, I'll continue to take it and wait for scientists to tell us in 50 years that it works.
Resveratrol and Alzheimer's prevention (video)
Additional research and findings
- Resveratrol promotes the clearing of brain plaques implicated in Alzheimer's disease (see video to right):
"Resveratrol, a naturally occurring polyphenol mainly found in grapes and red wine, markedly lowers the levels of secreted and intracellular amyloid-beta (Abeta) peptides produced from different cell lines."
- Resveratrol is one of a select group of compounds that prevents the proliferation of cancerous cells.
"Overall these results indicate that aspirin and ibuprofen are least potent, while resveratrol, curcumin, celecoxib, and tamoxifen are the most potent anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative agents of those we studied."
- Resveratrol inhibits the flu virus.
"Resveratrol, a chemical found in grapes and other fruits, inhibits the reproduction of influenza viruses in cell culture and mice, according to a recent report in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Rather than directly attacking the flu virus itself, resveratrol seems to block host-cell functions that are essential for viral replication."
Heard about Dr Oz and resveratrol? Get informed first.
- Dr Oz & Resveratrol
Which resveratrol pill does Dr Oz recommend? NONE. Please read this important article and don't get swindled!
How to get it in your diet
How to best get resveratrol? I personally take a supplement for two reasons:
- I'm not a heavy-enough wine drinker. A typical 5 ounce glass of red wine will have anywhere from 0.3 mg to 1.9 mg of resveratrol, while the typical supplement has over 30 mg of resveratrol.
- It costs only about 30 cents per day to take the supplement. Wine? Plan on spending about $50-100 per day to get the same amount of resveratrol (not to mention the constant state of inebriation you'd be in).
Besides, supplements are standardized for resveratrol content, while wine can vary widely by grape, region and vintage. But that's just me-millions of happy old Frenchmen would argue that to turn away a glass of fine pinot noir in favor of a capsule would constitute sacrilege, and if you like a glass or two of the red stuff to go along with your dinner every evening, then you might be apt to agree with them.
Dosage? There is no established suggested dosage, as this is not a required supplement for survival. Since the beginning of 2006, in addition to the occasional glass (or two) of Willamette Valley pinot noir, I've taken 1 Solaray Resveratrol capsule, standardized to contain 37.5 mg of resveratrol each. My daily dosage comes to less than 35 cents. I've also tried a few other brands, including Pure Encapsulations and Nature's Way. Most use Japanese knotweed as the source of resveratrol, since it is far cheaper a source than grapeskins or red wine extract.
Some will add grape seed extract and/or red wine extract, since these contain healthful procyanidins (polyphenols).
Mini-reviews of a few resveratrol products.
- Pure Encapsulations: $18 for 60 caps of 40mg (pure) resveratrol, or $0.30 per capsule. Added benefit: Much smaller capsules, easier to swallow.
- Solaray: $20 for 60 caps of 37.5mg (pure) resveratrol, or $0.33 per capsule. Larger capsule but also contains grape seed & red wine extracts (rich in healthful polyphenols). Seems to be out of stock often.