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Resveratrol’s Health Benefits Go Beyond Anti-Aging

What is resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a compound found in a variety of plants including cranberries, raspberries, peanuts, pine trees, and grapes.

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The primary dietary sources in an average person’s diet are peanuts, peanut butter, grapes, and wine. The compound is particularly concentrated in red wines such as pinot noir. Resveratrol is produced in the grape skin in response to a bacterial infection that affects the plant, thus acting as a natural antibiotic.

Resveratrol is classified as a polyphenol because of its chemical structure. Polyphenols make up a huge group of plant compounds that are further broken down into other classifications such as flavonoids and proanthocyanidins, which are potent antioxidants. Resveratrol is also a phytoestrogen, a substance that mimics some of the effects of estrogen while blocking others.

In the early ‘90s, scientists finally discovered that it is the secret ingredient found in the traditional Asian heart remedies that contain Polygonum—a plant that is abundant in resveratrol. These medicines are prescribed for liver and heart conditions. Since then, hundreds of studies have shown that resveratrol is beneficial to a long list of health concerns. And just recently, a Harvard research team found that resveratrol improved the health and survival of obese mice.3

How does resveratrol work?

Thousands of animal experiments have demonstrated that resveratrol has anti-aging benefits, as well as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antiplatelet, cholesterol-lowering, and mild estrogenic activities.

There are numerous theories, however, as to how it produces a wide range of health benefits. Harvard researchers have noted there is evidence suggesting that calorie restriction can extend lifespan across a range of species. And after screening thousands of molecules, they found that resveratrol mimics calorie restriction in yeast: activating enzymes that slow aging, increasing the stability of DNA, and extending lifespan by as much as 70%.12 Researchers suspect plants make these age-slowing molecules as a defense response.

Another Harvard research team recently found that resveratrol improved the health and survival of obese mice. Resveratrol increased insulin levels while decreasing glucose levels, resulting in healthier liver and heart tissue when compared to obese mice that did not receive treatment. "After six months, resveratrol essentially prevented most of the negative effects of the high-calorie diet in mice," said study co-author Rafael de Cabo of the National Institute of Aging (NIA).3

This study is significant because of the obesity epidemic in the United States. Resveratrol may well point the way to a new approach for treating obesity-related disorders and preventing age-related diseases in humans, like cancer, heart disease, and type II diabetes.

Reservatrol had previously been shown to prevent damage to liver tissue, says Matt Kaeberlein, a pathologist at the University of Washington; the compound could be staving off age-related diseases by keeping the liver healthy. He notes that more work needs to be done to determine if resveratrol affects other parts of the body as well.4

“Even if resveratrol does turn out to be a miracle drug, a wine glass would probably not be the preferred delivery method. According to Kaeberlein, it would take over 300 glasses of wine per day to equal the amount of resveratrol fed to the obese mice in this study.”4

An earlier study showed that resveratrol might also extend the lifespan of vertebrate animals. Researchers found that adding resveratrol to the daily diet of a small fish that naturally age rapidly and typically live only three months, prolonged its lifespan, delayed the onset of age-related problems, and improved cognitive function.

Researchers found that fish fed the lower dose of resveratrol lived an average of 33% longer than fish fed their normal diets, while those fed the higher dose of resveratrol lived more than 50% longer. The researchers reported that the findings suggest that resveratrol is the first compound to consistently prolong the life of several very different animal groups and could become the stepping-stone for creating drugs to prevent age-related diseases in humans.5

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Editor's Note:

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