In the medical community, resveratrol is a substance that’s been making quite a few waves as of late. The substance is found naturally in several plants, including the skin of grapes and some other fruits. It’s synthesized by plants when they suffer an attack from pests or pathogens, and is designed as a form of protection. Though it was discovered as far back as 1939, the potential health benefits of resveratrol are just now being discovered.
Resveratrol and Heart Health
A common notion among most in the West is that drinking limited amounts of red wine is good for cardiovascular health. This notion may prove true because of the presence of resveratrol. The grapes used to make wine, and subsequently the wine itself, contain very high levels of the substance. In fact, some in the medical field believe that resveratrol is partly responsible for the “French Paradox”, or the longevity of the French despite a diet high in saturated fat. Controlled testing has identified a few distinct ways in which resveratrol works to protect the heart. It keeps blood platelets from sticking together, which prevents the formation of clots in veins and arteries. Additionally, resveratrol stimulates enzymes that improve blood flow, and limit a harmful bodily reaction called “LDL peroxidation”.
Resveratrol vs. Viruses
Because it’s produced by plants to help fight against infection, it comes as no surprise that the substance can help battle pathogen invasions in animal bodies as well. A study performed on the herpes simplex virus shoed that, when female mice were infected and treated with resveratrol, the virus multiplied less frequently and was more limited in the genital area. Also, the hallmark scales of the herpes virus were almost non-existent on mice that were treated with resveratrol. While this is far from viral eradication, it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for controlling the herpes simplex virus. Viruses besides herpes simplex, including certain influenza strains and the varicella-zoster virus, have shown to be diminished with the use of resveratrol as well.
Resveratrol and the Brain
Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that devastates one’s mental capacity and is incurable, is believed to be caused at least in part by a buildup of plaque in the brain. As the debris accumulates, the pathways between neurons become cluttered and eventually malfunction, causing such symptoms of Alzheimer’s as memory loss, confusion, and disorientation. An intake of resveratrol, it seems, might help to combat this buildup.
In research performed at Cornell University, tests were conducted to find out more about this hypothesis. In the study, researchers used mice as subjects, giving them oral doses of resveratrol and measuring plaque levels in their brains. The study found that resveratrol consumption correlated with a reduction in plaque levels. The hypothalamus and striatum areas of the brain were particularly responsive, measuring a 90% and 89% reduction respectively. Though similar tests have yet to be performed on humans, it is reasonable to conclude that resveratrol might lead to brain plaque reduction in us as well.
Studies conducted on resveratrol’s effects on cancer have yielded mixed results thus far. Medical testing conducted in Japan, for instance, concluded that topical application of resveratrol in mice who were given a carcinogen helped to reduce the chance of developing melanoma (or skin cancer). These tests, however, involved controlled causes for cancerous growths. It is yet to be determined whether resveratrol would have any effect on cancers developed naturally during a relatively long lifespan.
Resveratrol and Life Extension
On of the most hailed effects of resveratrol by marketers and supplement makers is generally improved chances for a longer life span. Unfortunately, this is not easily tested for in a controlled experimental environment. While the jury on long-term studies is still out, certain tests conducted on organisms with very short average life spans have supported the notion that resveratrol consumption might extend animals’ lives.
Tests using yeast organisms, fruit flies, and even a specific species of worm all concluded that reservatrol does indeed extend their life span. Though these experiments don’t necessarily have strong implications for human life span, they do prove that, in at least some organisms, reservatrol is a legitimate life extender. A similar study, conducted on fish with a lifetime of about 9 weeks, showed that the fish’s median period of life was raised by 56%. Though it might seem counterintuitive, the same study concluded that very young fish had higher mortality rates when dosed with resveratrol. This fact led scientists to the conclusion that resveratrol might actually be slightly toxic to these fish. Their bodies, as a result, may respond by enabling certain processes that fight the toxicity, thereby improving vitality and extending life.
In order to explain the previously mentioned “French Paradox”, studies were also conducted to measure resveratrol’s effect on the life span of animals with a high fat diet. Researchers separated mice into two groups, giving one a standard diet with balanced macro nutrients (including carbohydrates, fats, and protein) and the other a disproportionate amount of fat. Before resveratrol was introduced, the researchers observed a higher mortality rate among mice with a high fat diet. After giving some in the high fat group regular doses of resveratrol, however, it was found that their risk of death was 30% lower than those without resveratrol supplementation. While it didn’t decrease indicators such as cholesterol levels, resveratrol seemed to lengthen the lifetime of mice with a high fat diet anyway.
Having recently realized the many potential health benefits of resveratrol, researchers have begun to test the substance’s effects with more gusto. As research on resveratrol continues, health benefits yet to be uncovered might still emerge. Whether it be for brain protection, immune system boosting, or life extension, it seems that resveratrol might prove to be one of those impressive substances with effects scattered throughout the health spectrum. This plant-manufactured, pathogen fighting substance has real potential to be a truly beneficial health supplement for a wide variety of conditions in the not-too-distant future.