Dr. Amy’s Wellness Tip for June: Resveratrol
Resveratrol has been a popular nutrient for several years now, with studies ongoing. This bioflavonoid, which is found in dark colored berries, grapes, and red wine, has been linked to numerous health benefits. Now, a new study has brought this old supplement back into the limelight. As with many supplements, it is not completely without controversy as dosages, types, and efficacies are constantly in debate. However, with a low side effect and risk profile, coupled with the potential for great and varied health benefits, I (still) think this one is worth your consideration.
Resveratrol, and in fact red wine itself, has been linked to lowered blood pressure, anti-carcinogenic effects, and benefits to the heart and brain. Consider that most benefits require an intake of 100mg to1000mg daily, and that a glass of wine contains around 7mg, and it is easy to see that taking resveratrol in supplemental form may be the better option to get these benefits without the risks of over-consuming wine. Furthermore, the extract of resveratrol seems to trump the benefits seen in studies of red wine itself.
Resveratrol has been shown, often in animal studies, to benefit health in various ways, but this latest study focuses on a specific attribute for heart health. The article, published in Cardiology Today, proposes that resveratrol works by relaxing the stiffness that occurs with arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. This study followed about 60 participants with Type II diabetes (a group that is more susceptible to arteriosclerosis). The authors noted, “In treatment with resveratrol among people with diabetes, there was a trend toward improvement in the stiffness. And in people with higher stiffness, there was more of a benefit.”
Concern for this study, and for other studies with resveratrol, is the small sample of patients along with the short time-period. However, the trend toward benefiting humans, especially a group susceptible to heart disease, was a positive note. Many prior studies for resveratrol have been on animal models, which inherently calls into question whether the same benefits would occur for humans. All of these study limitations call into question absolute efficacy, which is usually the case for supplementation as long-term, large human studies are expensive and it can be difficult to find funding for them.
If you stack up even the possible benefits or associations for resveratrol, it’s hard not to think we are on to something. It has long been thought that resveratrol is capable of activating a gene known as the siRT1 enzyme, an enzyme associated with longevity and the ability to survive physical diversity. Furthermore, when siRT1 is activated, you are less likely to have adverse “wear and tear” that might lower quality of life.
Perhaps through the activation of siRT1, resveratrol has been shown to increase the production of cellular mitochondria. Mitochondria are considered the “powerhouses” of our cells; they are responsible for the production of energy needed to fuel the body’s systems. This is likely one reason we have seen improvements in metabolism and weight loss with resveratrol, and it could also contribute to overall increased function of many systems in the body. Georgetown researchers believe that the inclusion of resveratrol sped recovery for damaged muscles in monkeys that they were tracking, and another study saw resveratrol preserve muscle fibers that normally break down during the aging process.
In a study on mice, resveratrol further enhanced weight loss by inhibiting pre-fat cells from maturing into fat cells. Resveratrol has also been linked to decreasing cytokines associated with inflammation. Decreasing inflammation carries its own benefits in aging, heart and brain health, and recovery.
The activation of siRT1 has been postulated for many years as a possible key for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s, and a recent study in Neurology further confirmed the possibility, suggesting that resveratrol might influence certain molecules in the body that are indicators, or biomarkers, for Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
As with most nutrients, arguments can be made that more, larger, and longer studies regarding the effects of resveratrol should be pursued. And they should be. But they may not be and an argument can also be made that for a low-risk nutrient, you may not want to wait to incorporate this supplement into your health routine. Resveratrol can be a blood-thinner, so it should be avoided for those on blood-thinners and prior to surgery. Some, but not many, resveratrol users complain of malaise and nausea. If you don’t fall into one of these categories, it is worth a chat with your provider to consider this addition to your preventive regime.
Although you will probably not be able to get close to dosages studied with food sources alone, resveratrol is found in many of our “super-foods” which you should be trying to get plenty of anyway. Polyphenols like resveratrol are in dark berries like raspberries, blueberries, pomegranates, red grapes, and also in red wine and dark chocolate (moderate the intake of these last two!).
If you choose to supplement, look for the trans-isomer form of resveratrol, which you will usually find at 125-300mg daily. Some studies dose closer to 1000mg per day, but for now I would recommend staying on a more average dosage until more studies are available.
Research is key to every nutrient, herb, and medication, but at the end of the day, with resveratrol, if we figure out that the animal studies didn’t translate completely to humans, or that small studies didn’t actually represent larger populations that well, we will have simply been, in effect, supplementing a very high quality antioxidant bioflavonoid. Or, we could be adding an easy, low-risk nutrient that can increase recovery, metabolism, quality of life, heart and brain health, and longevity itself. This one is worth thinking about.
Stay healthy & be well!
Amy Whittington, NMD