By Dr. Mercola
Resveratrol, a potent antioxidant found in a number of plants, including red grape skins, pomegranate, raw cacao, peanuts, and berries like raspberries and mulberries, is known to have a number of beneficial health effects.
The compound is produced by plants to increase their survival and resistance to disease during times of stress, such as excessive ultraviolet light, infections and climate changes. When you consume these plants, you can reap similar protection.
Resveratrol's antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties have been well-established by science, and its benefits are thought to extend to the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease, among others.
It belongs to a family of compounds known as polyphenols, which are known to combat damaging free radicals, which is likely why life extension in general is also on its list of health benefits.
Resveratrol is found in abundance in red wine, and it's highly soluble in alcohol, which means your body may absorb more of it from red wine than from other sources. I do not, however, suggest drinking large amounts of red wine, as alcohol in and of itself is a neurotoxin.
Whole foods, such as muscadine grapes, for example, are a better choice. Muscadine grapes have the highest concentration of resveratrol in nature because of their extra thick skins and numerous seeds where it is concentrated.
Other whole food sources include cocoa, dark chocolate and peanuts, but it may be difficult to get a therapeutic dose, especially since these are all foods I recommend you eat only in moderation. Another option is to take a resveratrol supplement. In this case, be sure to look for one made from a whole food complex that includes muscadine grape skin and seeds.
Resveratrol Shows Promise in Treatment of Cancer
Research has shown that resveratrol has the ability to deeply penetrate the center of a cell's nucleus, allowing the DNA to repair free radical damage that might otherwise contribute to cancerous growth.
Further, resveratrol's anti-inflammatory properties help prevent certain enzymes from forming that trigger tumor development. It also helps cut down cell reproduction, which helps reduce the number of cell divisions that could contribute to the progression of cancer cell growth.
Besides playing a role in the prevention of cancer, studies have also found that resveratrol can serve important functions in conjunction with conventional cancer therapies, as it acts as a:
- Chemo-sensitizer—a substance that can help you overcome resistance to chemotherapy drugs
- Radiation-sensitizer; making cancer cells more susceptible to radiation treatment
The latter was recently shown in a study1 conducted at the University of Missouri, in which melanoma cells became more susceptible to radiation when treated with resveratrol prior to the radiation treatment. When treated with resveratrol alone, 44 percent of the cancer cells underwent apoptosis, or cell death.
This, by itself, is worthy of note. When a combination treatment was applied, using radiation on melanoma cells pretreated with resveratrol, apoptosis of tumor cells increased to 65 percent. While promising, the researchers noted it's still going to take some time before an effective treatment can be produced. According to co-author Dr. Michael Nicholl, MD:2
"Because of difficulties involved in delivery of adequate amounts of resveratrol to melanoma tumors, the compound is probably not an effective treatment for advanced melanoma at this time."
Several Cancers Appear Susceptible to Resveratrol's Beneficial Influence
The first evidence of resveratrol's anti-cancer effects was published in 1997. The findings received great interest from cancer researchers, and many studies have been devoted to this potent antioxidant since then. In particular, its ability to render cancerous tumors more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiotherapy makes resveratrol a unique3 and potentially useful addition to conventional cancer therapy.
Many tumors develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs, known as chemoresistance. Researchers are always on the lookout for effective "chemo-sensitizers" that can help overcome such resistance, and resveratrol has been shown to do just that.
In a 2011 review4 of dietary agents that sensitize tumors, making them more susceptible to the treatment with chemotherapy drugs, resveratrol was featured as a clear candidate, courtesy of its multi-targeting properties. So far, cancers shown to respond favorably include:
Lung carcinoma Acute myeloid and promyelocytic leukemia Multiple myeloma Prostate cancer Oral epidermoid carcinoma Pancreatic cancer
In another study5 published that same year, resveratrol was also found to help alleviate many of the debilitating side effects associated with conventional cancer treatments, including those listed below. According to the authors, mounting evidence indicates that these symptoms are primarily caused by dysregulation of inﬂammatory pathways in your body, which may explain resveratrol's efficacy.
Cachexia (wasting syndrome) Anorexia Fatigue Depression Neuropathic pain Anxiety Cognitive impairment Sleep disorders Delirium (acute confusion)
Resveratrol: A Powerhouse of Health Benefits
Resveratrol is often referred to as "the fountain of youth" due to its wide-ranging health benefits. GreenMedInfo.com6 lists no less than 590 scientific studies showing the beneficial effect of resveratrol for 342 different diseases. In addition to its anti-cancer properties, resveratrol has been shown to reverse oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, normalize your lipids, protect your heart, stabilize your insulin, and much more.7 In broad strokes, resveratrol has the following actions and functions:
- Broad-spectrum antimicrobial
Resveratrol's ability to quench inflammation renders it useful not just against cancer, but also for inflammatory diseases such as appendicitis, peritonitis, and systemic sepsis. It does this by preventing your body from creating two molecules known to trigger inflammation -- sphingosine kinase and phospholipase D.
Another property that sets resveratrol apart from many other antioxidants is its ability to cross your blood-brain barrier, which allows it to moderate inflammation in your central nervous system. This is significant because CNS inflammation plays an important role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
In a 2010 study,8 resveratrol was found to suppress inflammatory effects in certain brain cells (microglia and astrocytes) by inhibiting different proinflammatory cytokines and key signaling molecules. There is also solid scientific data that resveratrol helps clear out the plaque in your brain that leads to Alzheimer's disease. According to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, 9 resveratrol exerts "potent anti-amyloidogenic activity." More recently, resveratrol was also found to improve cerebral blood flow to your brain,10 which has obvious implications for vascular dementia—which is caused by impaired blood flow—as well as stroke.
What's the Best Source of Resveratrol?
According to Bloomberg,11 at least two dozen clinical trials are currently underway to gauge resveratrol's effects on human health and longevity, including at least one synthetic version that is equivalent to drinking 1,000 bottles of red wine per day! This synthetic resveratrol is being tested on cancer patients. Harvard researchers are optimistic that their anti-aging "wonderdrug" could be available in less than five years.
But buyers beware... Taking a synthetic version of a natural agent, or an isolated agent, rarely produces good results and you can frequently expect the unexpected, in terms of side effects. It is always better to consume the whole food, the way nature prepared it with its full complement of naturally-occurring, synergistic phytonutrients.
As mentioned earlier, red wine is one of the richest dietary sources of resveratrol. For comparison, fresh grape skin contains about 50 to 100 micrograms of resveratrol per gram, while red wine concentrations range from 1.5 to 3 milligrams per liter. That said, I still don't recommend drinking red wine for a daily dose of resveratrol, mainly because alcohol itself is a neurotoxin, which means it can poison your brain. Additionally, it has the strong potential to seriously disrupt your delicate hormone balance.
Instead, I recommend getting resveratrol from your diet by eating grapes (muscadine grapes have the highest concentration of resveratrol in nature because of their extra thick skins and numerous seeds where it is concentrated), cocoa, dark chocolate and peanuts. In order to get closer to any kind of therapeutic dose, however, you would likely need a resveratrol supplement (which is one of the few supplements I personally take). Ideally, it should be made from a whole food complex that includes muscadine grape skin and seeds, which contain the highest levels of resveratrol.
Since grapes are particularly high in fructose though, if you are one of the 80 percent of the population that suffers from insulin resistance (overweight, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol) then that might not be your first step. Instead consider implementing intermittent fasting and get your insulin resistance under control. Once you have done that, then it would make sense to use grapes as a source of natural resveratrol as it will work in conjunction with your now normalized insulin resistance.
Aim for Balance—Even When It Comes to Beneficial Nutrients
Keep in mind that too much of a good thing can backfire, even when it's a natural supplement. This is particularly relevant when it comes to antioxidants, as your body does need some degree of oxidative stress for optimal function and adaptation. Consider exercise, for example.
Vigorous exercise creates a high degree of oxidative stress, but without it, your body would not become stronger. In other words, if the stress on your body were to be removed from exercise, so would the benefit. This is precisely what the University of Copenhagen12 discovered in a recent study involving older men taking resveratrol. According to Science Daily:13
"We found that exercise training was highly effective in improving cardiovascular health parameters, but resveratrol supplementation attenuated the positive effects of training on several parameters including blood pressure, plasma lipid concentrations and maximal oxygen uptake."
This really took the researchers by surprise! They noted that the quantities of resveratrol given to the men in this study (250 mg) were much higher than what they would have received from natural foods, and that might be part of the problem. The take-home message is that antioxidants are not a fix for everything; it's more about finding balance. By focusing on a healthful diet that optimizes your insulin levels and minimizes inflammation, you will reduce your risk for virtually all chronic disease, including cancer.
As a general rule, the best approach to antioxidants is to consume a wide variety of them, not large amounts of just one. They work together synergistically, all performing different roles in your body, like an orchestra performing a symphony. The music falls very short if only one or two instruments are playing.
So remember, while resveratrol can be a powerful addition to your diet, you need a solid nutritional foundation. The first step is making sure you're covering the basics, which is why I offer my complete nutrition plan free of charge. This comprehensive guide addresses the factors underlying virtually all chronic and degenerative diseases. For more details on lifestyle strategies that help prevent cancer, please see my recent article: Cancer—Forbidden Cures.