Of prime status in our antioxidant section is the plant-derived compound resveratrol. Recipient of more studies and renown than probably any other botanical antioxidant except turmeric perhaps, the science is undeniable and compelling. First coming to attention as a purported major factor in the French Paradox, everyone from Harvard University to the National Cancer Institute to the National Library of Medicine have since studied the compound and demonstrated an astonishing array of benefits to the human body.
Resveratrol is clasified as a phytoalexin, which is an antioxidant compound plants produce to protect themselves from environmental stress (UV radiation) or pathogenic attacks such as fungal infestation. Grapes are the most famous source, in particular the skins, and other sources are mulberries, peanuts, the Japanese knotweed plant, and even dark chocolate. It is the amount of red wine (and the inherent content of resveratrol) which the French drink which is thought to be one of the reasons for that population's relatively low incidence of cardiac disease despite their high consumption of fatty foods such as cream, butter, and cheese. This "French Paradox" is likely also related to heart-healthy olive oil consumption, but it is the red wine's resveratrol which was first recognized as important here.
The most famous research involving resveratrol showed that the compound mimics the effects of caloric restriction on extending lifespan. Caloric restriction seems to be one of the best-documented anti-aging methods, with all animals in which it has been tested showing improved multiple aspects of age-related decline. How this works is through producing changes in gene expression that are associated with a long life and a slowing of the aging process. Specifically, resveratrol influences and activates a sirtuin gene known as SIRT2 involved in aging, life-span regulation and cell death. What "turning back the clock" or "the fountain of youth" mean to the body is a litany of improved processes and functions: increased insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar, enhanced mitochondrial energy production, improved motor function, and less chromosomal damage that typically accompanies aging. It is believed that activation of the sirtuin gene may have therapeutic potential for many human diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart failure, and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease.
Resveratrol's activity is not relegated solely to longevity via gene expression. It is a very powerful antioxidant with many effects benefiting human cardiovascular health in particular. It inhibits the oxidation of dangerous LDL, and its potent anti-inflammatory action leads to inhibition of atherosclerosis. It appears to influence endothelial cell function and nitric oxide activity, which lead to improved blood flow and circulation. Resveratrol may help to prevent arrhythmias and also inhibit abnormal blood clotting. It inhibits platelet aggregation (stickiness of blood cells) and thus may help prevent stroke and heart attacks.
Resveratrol has been shown to exhibit a broad range of anti-cancer properties. It affects multiple pathways and systems of protection in this regard. Not only does it suppress angiogenesis (the process of new blood vessels forming which feed tumors), it increases apoptosis (cancer cell death). It has been shown to inhibit cancers of the colon, kidneys, esophagus, skin, lung, prostate, liver, ovaries, pancreas, thyroid, and more. Through its various mechanisms, resveratrol may enhance the effects of chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation. To summarize its anti-cancer activity, resveratrol has been shown to be effective against cancer in all three phases of the cancer process, initiation, promotion, and progression. It reduces inflammatory markers, increases antioxidant status such as glutathione, and increases amounts of detoxifying enzymes.
Resveratrol is not known to be toxic or cause adverse effects in humans, although there are a few cautions as with most supplements. For example, since it is an inhibitor of platelet aggregation, theoretically, high doses could increase the risk of bruising and bleeding when taken with anticoagulant drugs, such as warfarin (Coumadin) and heparin.
Supplements range anywhere from 1-500 mg. Look for supplements containing trans-Resveratrol, the more biologically active form.
Good for Your Skin, Too
In addition, resveratrol and other antioxidants are beneficial for the skin which is constantly subjected to free-radical damage from UV radiation, environmental toxins and even normal cellular processes.
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