In a test tube, resveratrol does a great job of scavenging free radicals and other bad oxidants that lead us to get old, grumpy, and sick. The question is how does resveratrol fare in a capsule, as a dietary supplement to keep both men and women sharp and healthy through the decades?
Resveratrol, which is found in red wine, is in the family of chemicals called polyphenols that are thought to provide protection from atherosclerosis, cancer, and heart disease. They may also decrease the chances of getting Alzheimer’s and prolong life, according to some studies.
Some people believe resveratrol may be the reason for the French Paradox, the fact that fewer people die of heart attacks in France even though they probably smoke more, drink more, and eat a diet high in saturated fats. (Just think croissants, not McDonald’s.)
But in our bodies, somehow other things happen when resveratrol gets introduced as a supplement. The antioxidant activity of resveratrol seems to be much lower than that of vitamin C, vitamin E, or even glutathione, but for reasons that are not exactly clear or scientifically proven, people feel better when they take it. Maybe it is the placebo effect at work, or maybe what science is showing in vitro may actually apply in vivo.
In the presence of estrogens, like the ones our bodies make before menopause, or the ones we take in the form of biodientical hormones (estradiol), resveratrol appears to act in a cancer-protective fashion. In breast cancer cell cultures, resveratrol appears to attack the cancer cells in the presence of estradiol. When estrogen isn’t present, resveratrol lays low.
For cells to turn to cancer cells, a biochemical reaction has to occur in the cell. Cytochrome P450 enzymes have to metabolize compounds to create a carcinogen. In preliminary studies, resveratrol protects the body from this transformation by increasing activity of the phase II enzyme NADPH, which promotes elimination of potentially toxic or carcinogenic chemicals and stops cells from growing haphazardly.
In translation, that means resveratrol — in the proper environment — may help protect us from cancer.
Anti-inflammatory effects are also attributable to resveratrol, as is a significant inhibitory effect on atherosclerotic plaque formation that was shown in a number of studies.
As for anti-aging help, a recent study in mice (they are mammals after all) demonstrated that resveratrol altered gene expression in heart, brain, and skeletal muscle similar to calorie restriction, and caused blunting of the natural age-related decline in heart function.
There are clinical trials under way to determine the relevancy of these findings in humans, but for now the results in mice have led to an entire industry being built in a hurry. Remember the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin? You probably still take them and believe they are making your aching joints better. You may be interested to know the scientific studies on them were all done on dogs, and only 50 percent of the dogs treated actually had positive results regarding their arthritic joints. That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement, but it sure beats getting a bleeding ulcer from an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen.
Back to resveratrol. While you could increase your intake of it by chewing on the skin of red grapes and downing gallons of red wine and boiled peanuts, you might consider taking a resveratrol supplement.
The supplements contain extracts of the root of Polygonum cuspidatum, as well as red wine and grape extracts. The supplements may contain from 10 to 20 mg of resveratrol, which is actually a very low dose of the active ingredient that does all the good.
There are no known toxic effects of supplemental resveratrol in humans based on the few trials completed so far. The most recent trial found a dose of 5 gm a day was safe in humans. The most common dose is now around 300 mg/kg body weight, much lower and proof of safety for those concerned with overdosing.
I would not recommend women take resveratrol while pregnant. They don’t need it. Suffice it to say, women should stay away from wine in general when pregnant.
Resveratrol may increase bleeding in people who take Coumadin or Plavix, and even non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. The way to get around that problem is to follow the tendency to bleed with a simple blood test that will help find a proper balance of the drugs and supplement. By the way, do tell your doctor about every supplement you take. You may think supplements aren’t medications and do not interact. But everything interacts.
For now, resveratrol looks promising. There may be some hype associated with its promise, but I found no reason not to take it. Make sure you get it from a reputable source, since many supplements promise doses their capsules just don’t deliver. Just because the brand gets a lot of publicity doesn’t mean it is the best, and just because it is discounted doesn’t mean you are getting a bargain. Do your research and take the highest quality at reasonable prices.
And remember: While resveratrol may turn out to be a great addition to your age management regimen, it is only one piece of the larger puzzle of health.
Posts by Erika Schwartz, M.D
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