Imagine, you’re home after a long day at work. You’ve got a glass of red wine in your hand. Well, it turns out that while you’re enjoying some well-deserved ‘me’ time, you’re also doing something incredibly important for your health.
You’re helping protect yourself from cancer… sharpening your brain against Alzheimer’s… turning back the clock on your heart health… and even managing your weight.
No, your imagination isn’t playing tricks on you. It’s all true – and it’s all thanks to a remarkable compound called resveratrol.
Resveratrol first came to popular attention in the 1980s because scientists had noted that
French people had particularly low rates of cardiovascular disease – despite their habit of ‘living the good life’, like eating high saturated fats and drinking lots of Bordeaux and Burgundy. They called this phenomenon the ‘French paradox’.
So, scientists began to credit a compound in red grapes, wine, and nuts called resveratrol for protecting the people of France from heart disease – and since then, this amazing substance has been investigated thoroughly.
Resveratrol is produced by certain plants in nature to protect them from stressors – fungus growth, disease, weather events – much like how our immune system protects us. Therefore, it has both antifungal and antibiotic properties – but it’s resveratrol’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities that give it such broad-ranging functions.
It’s classified as a polyphenol, which means it’s responsible for taste, colour, and smell in the plant world.
And there’s lots that resveratrol can do for humans, too. Based on scores of studies and some enlightening research, resveratrol can protect your heart, kidneys and brain… work throughout your central nervous system… and even zero in on your DNA. And best of all, it can even keep you younger – longer!
Ten times the protection
Recent experiments on mice have shown that resveratrol can trigger protective activity in cardiovascular cells by stimulating the production of a protein called SIRT1.1 Just one of the ‘sirtuins’ group of proteins, SIRT1 is responsible for keeping cells working longer and better.
And resveratrol can stimulate the production of SIRT1 by up to 10 times!
Other animal studies have shown that resveratrol can lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels, heart function, and blood flow. In one rat study, resveratrol was shown to lower blood pressure and slow the progression of hypertension by affecting the genes involved with angiotensin II production – which is exactly the target for most blood pressure medications.
In other rat studies, high-dose resveratrol has also improved blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels, ventricular function,3 and even cardiac hypertrophy, a condition in which the heart muscle thickens and shrinks the size of the heart’s chamber.
In patients who’d had a heart attack, resveratrol was found to improve the strength by which the heart pumps its blood and to reduce dangerous LDL cholesterol levels.
Resveratrol has also been shown to reduce the size and density of the plaques that harden the arteries, in a condition known as atherosclerosis. Based on those same animal studies, scientists have theorized that this miracle substance suppresses the molecules that help substances in the blood stick to each other (like cholesterol, fat, and calcium) – and to the artery walls.
This is exciting research, since the lessening of platelet stickiness and clumping is a goal of any cardiovascular treatments in humans. Even more encouraging is that in one population study, resveratrol had a significantly positive effect on platelet clumping even in high-risk cardiac patients with aspirin resistance.
Banish inflammation and prevent kidney damage
A number of studies involving different kidney-related illnesses – from diabetes to chemical damage to the kidneys – have demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of resveratrol. And this brings us back to that protective protein I mentioned earlier on the first page, SIRT1. By activating the production of SIRT1, resveratrol can also reduce inflammation, which can ward off kidney damage AND kidney failure.
Resveratrol seems to work by lowering the levels of two inflammatory markers, TNFalpha and TGF-beta. That, in turn, reduces the production of the dangerous molecules that are associated with oxidative stress, known as ‘reactive oxygen species’ (or ROS for short). It’s that oxidative stress that can damage your kidneys and even cause them to fail.
Amazingly, resveratrol’s kidney benefits don’t end there. In animal models, resveratrol has been shown to protect kidney function in cases of acute injury through fibrosis by lowering the effect of certain proteins – called ECM (for ‘extracellular matrix’) – which can deteriorate the kidney tissue.
The lessening of those ROS molecules and ECM proteins also seems to diminish the damage from kidney stones. Not only that, but it also seems to help prevent kidney stones from forming in the first place!
Keep your blood sugar – and your weight – from spiking
Resveratrol has equally as impressive effects on the processes of your body. Take, for instance, metabolism. Multiple studies of animals (and some on humans) have demonstrated that resveratrol can improve insulin sensitivity… and even promote weight loss.
In one double-blind, placebo controlled study, a small dose of resveratrol – just 10mg – was given to patients with type 2 diabetes. Amazingly, their blood glucose was lowered – and their blood sugar spiked (say, after a meal) to a lesser extent than the control group.
Results from other clinical trials have suggested a lower average blood sugar by reducing levels of haemoglobin A1c, which binds to glucose in the blood. So, less haemoglobin A1c means lower blood sugar.
As you know, controlling your blood sugar goes hand-in-hand with managing your weight and preventing diabetes damage – so it’s no surprise that resveratrol can actually reduce belly fat (in one study on mice, by as much as 33 per cent) and even improve metabolic syndrome.
Resveratrol has even been shown to boost metabolism, right in your brain cells!
Keep your brain cells intact and your mind razor-sharp
Resveratrol’s ability to control and squelch free-radical activity is largely responsible for all its positive effects in the body, however, nowhere is this more important than the central nervous system.
The structures of your central nervous system – that is, your brain and spinal cord – have a particularly high rate of metabolism and oxygen needs. The faster the metabolism, the more reactive oxygen species are produced. In addition, heavy metals like iron can store in the brain and act as irritants to create ROS as well.
The central nervous system is particularly susceptible to oxidation because of its high fat content – and as we age, we’re exposed to more and more ROS.
And the older you are, the harder your brain needs to work to counteract that oxidative stress.
Sometimes, your brain just can’t work hard enough on its own to completely avoid damage and disease. It needs a little help.
Perhaps the most exciting therapeutic application of resveratrol is its effect on neurodegenerative diseases – particularly ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease – since they’re thought to be the result of oxidative stress on the brain, leading to the development of senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.
Although we’re not clear yet on the exact mechanisms involved, we know this process has something to do with tau proteins. Tau proteins are found in abundance in the neurons of everyone’s brains; but when they undergo a process called ‘acetylation,’ they begin to collect and ‘stick’ together.
In aggregate, these proteins can lead to the development of the neurofibrillary tangles (or NFTs) that are commonly found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Resveratrol can actually help counteract the acetylation of those tau proteins in the brain. It appears to prevent the degeneration of the nervous system by activating the anti-inflammatory SIRT1 proteins and reducing the activity of the cell-damaging ROS.
Yes, this same process also occurs in the brain – with equally protective benefits!
And this doesn’t only apply to Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s disease, for example, is an illness in which inflammatory messengers seem to be involved, leading to:
- increased activity of the ‘glial cells’ that surround and support neurons,
- deposits of a protein called alpha synuclein,
- and eventual damage to dopamine-containing brain cells.
In all, there are at least SEVEN known pathways of messaging that can go awry, leading to
Parkinson’s-like symptoms and full-blown Parkinson’s disease – and resveratrol is known to have a modifying effect on ALL of them.
For instance, resveratrol has been found to quiet down the glial cell activation and inflammation in animal studies and improve function – even after Parkinson’s-like symptoms had already emerged.
Of course, human studies are still lacking in the field, but the body of evidence from animal and laboratory studies is fairly strong.
The same goes for motor neurone disease (MND). In this fast-progressing disease, motor nerves are lost throughout the nervous system. There’s no cure, but findings from animal studies
suggest that resveratrol might be useful in its prevention and treatment – especially since MND is associated with:
- high levels of oxidative stress,
- aberrant calcium metabolism,
- elevated levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain.
Resveratrol has been shown to work on all three of these mechanisms, by:
- preventing and reducing oxidation,
- keeping calcium down,
- buffering the damage caused by a glutamate build-up and the resulting flood of messages that overwhelms and damages brain cells.
And, as previously noted, the SIRT1 that’s activated by resveratrol also helps decrease the brain damage associated with MND symptoms.
Resveratrol could help stop tumours from forming
The power of resveratrol extends beyond those diseases of the brain – because this remarkable molecule also seems to help fight cancer.
Now, this is true for many of the micronutrients known as polyphenols. As a class – particularly with their anti-inflammatory properties – they seem to limit the growth and spread of cancerous cells and therefore help limit the development of cancer.
While there aren’t a great many human studies yet to support this theory, there are a lot of in vitro and animal studies which outline and support a role for resveratrol in helping to prevent and fight cancer.
In both human and animal studies, resveratrol has appeared to stop colon cancer in its tracks – before it even starts! For example, in one rat study, resveratrol appeared to stop colon cells from developing into cancer by preventing the formation of abnormal glands called aberrant crypt foci (ACF) in the lining of the colon and rectum. ACF can appear even before colorectal polyps – which are usually the first sign of colon cancer that patients (and doctors) ever notice.
ACF can be particularly scary – and dangerous – because, like tumors, they’re resistant to the natural cycle of cells dying off (or, committing ‘suicide’), called apoptosis.
Finally, in a human study, the group given resveratrol was found to have a reduced gene expression of the type that leads to cancerous transformation of cells.
This cancer-preventing compound has also been shown in the laboratory to help slow down the formation of other gastrointestinal tumors – and by as much as 70 per cent in one mouse study!14 It does this partially by maximizing the power of the body’s immune system – for example, by activating the body’s own cancer killing cells, called cytotoxic T cells.
Lab studies have shown that resveratrol has anti-tumour effects, anti-inflammatory effects, and apoptosis-promoting activity in cases of pancreatic cancer and liver cancer, where laboratory mice showed a 25 per cent decrease in tumour cell content of their livers as a result of resveratrol therapy.
Resveratrol even helps slow the progression of hepatitis B to liver cancer.
In the case of prostate cancer, resveratrol seems to help prevent it by regulating the enzymes involved in its development, called extracellular regulated kinases (ERK).
Resveratrol has also been shown to slow the growth of prostate cancer cells, and multiple animal
studies have demonstrated that it also can stimulate the suicide of cancer cells… and only cancer cells.
That’s like the holy grail of cancer therapy research!
Even more encouraging is that an increase in apoptosis has been seen in breast tumours treated with resveratrol as well.
In fact, resveratrol has shown much promise in both helping to prevent and fight breast cancers.
It seems to interfere with the ability of cancerous cells to form new blood vessels to carry supplies and nourishment to the tumour – which can stop tumour growth in its tracks. This process, known as antiangiogenesis, is a valued activity of an anticancer medication.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding: Breast tumours decreased both in SIZE and in NUMBER in experimental laboratory mice that were given resveratrol. They also showed a downregulation of the HER2 gene mutation that promotes cancer cell growth and can develop into more aggressive types of breast cancer.
Resveratrol has also been shown to lower levels of two enzymes involved in the metastasis of tumours in cases of breast cancer, called MMP-9 and COX-2.20
Some study authors have also suggested that resveratrol may act similarly to the oestrogen-blocking medications often prescribed to breast cancer patients receiving hormone therapy, like tamoxifen.
Blocking oestrogen can be an important part of the treatment of breast cancer, since some breast cancer tumour cells NEED oestrogen to grow.
That’s not to say that resveratrol could replace mainstream cancer therapies altogether – but some research does suggest that resveratrol could be used with other treatments.
In studies of non-small cell lung cancer (with a very poor prognosis), resveratrol actually enhanced the value of radiation therapy by stimulating apoptosis and slowing the formation of dangerous oxidizing substances in the tissues.
When resveratrol has been combined with the chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil in mice, it helped prevent the onset of severe side effects.23
Find your fountain of youth in a bottle of red
Now, resveratrol can do something else, too… that you can’t see or feel… deep inside your cells.
Studies show it can actually protect your DNA – and that, my friend, can help you live longer.
Longevity is generally associated with a substance at the end of your chromosomes called ‘telomeres’. You want those telomeres to stay long, because the shorter your telomeres, the shorter your lifespan.
Our bodies have some protective mechanisms to ensure that telomeres don’t become shorter
– including producing an antiageing substance called ‘telomere maintenance factors’. And guess what? In a lab, resveratrol has been shown to stimulate the production of it.
Shorter telomeres don’t just mean you won’t live as long. In the nervous system, they’re associated with age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s because of an abnormally increased apoptosis of nerve cells.
Now, while some cell death is normal by the body’s natural processes, too many nerve cells dying off can be a sign of damaged DNA. Your telomeres specifically can be damaged by ROS and environmental toxins – but resveratrol can protect against that damage by transferring electrons to free radicals and rendering them harmless.
Believe it or not, these aren’t even ALL the benefits that we can derive from this blessing given to us by the plant world! I’ve seen it prevent arthritis pain and lessen the pain of fibromyalgia.
Live your own ‘French paradox’
Resveratrol is actually produced in nature by a variety of plants, including grapes, peanuts, and berries.
Because it’s present in greater concentrations in the rigid parts of a plant (like stems, bark, and shells), the process of mashing everything up like you would in producing wine leads to a higher concentration of resveratrol than peanuts. But it’s only present in wines made from red grapes (and that includes the grape skins in the winemaking process), so uncorking that Chardonnay won’t do you much good.
Fortunately, wine isn’t your only option when it comes to getting the age-defying, cancer- reventing, heart healthy benefits of this remarkable natural breakthrough.
Instead, you could sip on some unsweetened, organic red or purple grape juice… or even grab some red grapes. A cup of red grapes has about the same amount of resveratrol as about three glasses of red wine – but with more fibre, and no alcohol.
You could also snack on some boiled peanuts, which contain even more resveratrol than red grapes – and more than raw peanuts or sugary peanut butter. (That’s because they’re cooked with the shells, where resveratrol is found in highest concentrations).\
And finally, to take advantage of that ‘French paradox’ for yourself for just pennies a day, you can pick up resveratrol supplements pretty affordably just about anywhere.
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 10, Issue 6 • June 2016