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It's almost impossible to avoid those internet ads urging you to buy resveratrol. They claim it's the fountain of youth in supplement form. News stories tout resveratrol as a cure for various diseases as well as a preventative against aging. Is it true or just hype?
Researchers from the University of Florida reviewed the available research and concluded that it may be some of each. Study authors say that the polyphenol compound known as resveratrol may not prevent old age, but it might make it more tolerable.
While acknowledging the search for an anti-aging cure in a pill, the researchers admitted that it doesn't exist. But they did find that resveratrol may lessen many of the "scourges and infirmities of old age."
Reviewing the body of human clinical research on resveratrol, they found it has "anti-aging, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties." But the authors admitted that more research is needed to determine its specific benefits.
The study, which appeared online in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, also examined results from thousands of laboratory studies with enzymes, cultured cells and laboratory animals.
The researchers found that despite numerous clinical studies on resveratrol's beneficial effects on animals, there is little evidence that it benefits human health. That's because there haven't been as many studies on humans.
Resveratrol is a chemical compound found in certain plants that acts as an antibiotic to fight off both bacteria and fungus.
Although red wine is the best known dietary source of resveratrol, it is also found in raspberries, mulberries, blueberries, and cranberries. Few people realize that resveratrol is also found in peanuts, pine trees and in Japanese knotweed, from which most resveratrol supplements are derived.
Scientists began exploring the potential health benefits of resveratrol in 1992 when it was first found in red wine. It was thought to be a possible explanation of the "French Paradox," or the observation that the French eat a high saturated fat diet and drink red wine, but do not suffer the same rates of heart disease as Americans.
Others disagree, attributing the cardiac health of the French to the very saturated fats that Americans fear. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, saturated fat has never really been proven to be linked to heart disease, despite the government's consistent vilification of animal fats.
We do know that resveratrol acts as a powerful antioxidant. Oxidation causes cells to lose electrons and form "free radicals" that can cause cell damage. That in turn leads to various diseases.
Resveratrol and Breast Cancer
Various clinical trials have indicated that as a polyphenol - an antibiotic substance produced by plants as a defense against microorganisms – resveratrol prevents the growth of some cancers in mice.
A team of American and Italian scientists have suggested that this "healthy" ingredient in red wine also stops breast cancer cells from growing by blocking the growth effects of estrogen.
In a study published in The FASEB Journal, researchers found that resveratrol inhibits the proliferation of hormone resistant breast cancer cells. This has important implications for the treatment of women with breast cancer whose tumors eventually develop resistance to hormonal therapy.
The researchers treated different breast cancer cell lines with resveratrol and compared their growth with cells left untreated. They found an important reduction in cell growth in cells treated by resveratrol, while no changes were seen in untreated cells. Additional experiments revealed that this effect was related to a drastic reduction of estrogen receptor levels caused by resveratrol itself.
The Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal called the findings exciting and said that "scientists haven't finished distilling the secrets of good health that have been hidden in natural products such as red wine."
Resveratrol and Alzheimer's Disease
There are no human studies backing up the claim that resveratrol might extend life. Many believe it may have anti-aging properties based on studies showing that it increases the life-spans of yeast, worms, fruit flies, fish and mice.
But it may help avoid some diseases associated with aging. Research from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that resveratrol has the ability to neutralize the toxic effects of proteins linked to Alzheimer's disease.
The study was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. It shows that resveratrol selectively targets and neutralizes clumps of peptides or proteins that are bad and have been linked to Alzheimer's, but leaves alone those that are benign.
Other research shows that resveratrol may:
- inhibit enzymes that cause inflammation;
- shrink tumors;
- reduce cardiovascular disease by increasing blood flow;
- extend the life of obese animals; and
- help regulate insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients.
Reason enough to enjoy a glass of red wine.