By Dr. Mercola
What happens when you begin exercising and cutting back on calories? Some may say "weight loss" and "getting healthier," which are good answers, but researchers have found that resveratrol, a compound in the skin of grapes, blue and purple berries and dark chocolate may impart many of the same neuroprotective benefits that working out and eating smaller portions offers.
In fact, a new study1 reports that resveratrol is comparable to metformin, a drug often prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes, as it helps preserve the muscle fibers that break down during the aging process. It can also protect the neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) between neurons, known as synapses.
Synapses are important for voluntary movement because they relay motor commands from neurons in your spinal cord to your muscles. Scientists say they're hopeful the information will eventually help alleviate the detriments of aging as it did in studies on 2-year-old mice which, in mouse years, is considered elderly.
The mice were treated with resveratrol for a year, during which time the researchers watched how their NMJs performed in comparison with mice fed a typical diet, and found the resveratrol group had fewer age-related symptoms. In fact, their muscles and nerves were more like those of 3-month-old mice.
Gregorio Valdez, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, where the study took place, who had already found that the double benefits of a good diet along with exercise can protect against age-related synapse damage, led the featured study. He explained:
"We all slow down as we get older. Gait, balance issues and impaired motor coordination contribute to health problems, accidents, lack of mobility and a lower quality of life.
We work on identifying molecular changes that slow down motor deficits that occur with aging. I believe that we are getting closer to tapping into mechanisms to slow age-induced degeneration of neuronal circuits."2
Resveratrol: Designed to Protect, if Sourced Wisely
Resveratrol, which acts like a potent antioxidant, is a compound found in grape skins, red wine, raspberries, pomegranates, raw cacao and dark chocolate, among other plant-based foods.
It's a polyphenol designed to increase the life span of plants through disease resistance and such stressors as drastic changes in climate, too much ultraviolet light and disease.
It was probably intuition that caused scientists to explore what resveratrol might be able to do for humans and, sure enough, it imparts very similar protective benefits. But if you read this and think you'll get the neuroprotective and anti-aging benefits by drinking more red wine, that's not how it works. As Valdez explained:
"In wine, resveratrol is in such small amounts you could not drink enough of it in your life to have the benefits we found in mice given resveratrol. These studies are in mice and I would caution anyone from blasting their bodies with resveratrol in any form.
The next step is to identify the mechanism that enables resveratrol to protect synapses. If we know the mechanism, we can modify resveratrol or look for other molecules that are more effective at protecting the synapses."3
Further, alcoholic beverages like red wine may damage both your brain and your organs and is itself a neurotoxin, which makes drinking large amounts of red wine for this or any other purpose irresponsible and counterproductive. A U.S. National Library of Medicine article backs this up:
"Drinking too much alcohol is a sure-fire way to speed up deterioration of thinking skills and can cause brain damage. Too much alcohol in the long term is linked to several cancers, heart disease, stroke and liver disease."4
One way to access the benefits of resveratrol is by eating muscadine grapes, which contain the highest concentration among foods, especially in the skin. Mulberries and blueberries are other good sources.
Limit your intake to one-half cup per day, however, because fruit also contains fructose. A whole food resveratrol supplement containing bits of muscadine grape skin is another option.
Resveratrol 'Zaps' Free Radicals and Performs Many Other Functions
One of the most dramatic advantages resveratrol provides is its power to annihilate free radicals, produced by your body as a part of normal metabolism. They're a natural biological response to environmental toxins you encounter every day, such as lawn fertilizer, your pet's flea collar, food preservatives and medications.
When your body can't fight the bombardment of toxins, your cells begin to oxidize, a process that's been described as "biological rusting." Free radicals can damage your DNA, cause disease and compromise your entire immune system.
Antioxidants, on the other hand, stave off the damage done by free radicals, which is one reason why resveratrol is so remarkable. It can also help fight the aging process throughout your body, from your skin to your cells. A list of several functions resveratrol may help with includes:
Another crucial way resveratrol helps your brain is that it can cross the blood-brain barrier, or BBB. Examined Existence explains that a century ago, scientists found that blue dye injected into animal tissues turned those tissues blue, but would not permeate the brain or spinal cord.5
That resveratrol is able to get across your brain barrier means that brain inflammation can be regulated and decreased in your central nervous system. Part of the significance of this ability is that brain inflammation is a factor in the development of most neurodegenerative diseases.
Neuroprotective Effects of Resveratrol Positively Impacts Alzheimer's
The fact that resveratrol improves your brain blood flow is an indication that it may also improve brain function. According to a Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) report:
"Resveratrol given to Alzheimer's patients appears to restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, reducing the ability of harmful immune molecules secreted by immune cells to infiltrate from the body into brain tissues.
The reduction in neuronal inflammation slowed the cognitive decline of patients, compared to a matching group of placebo-treated patients with the disorder."6
Scientists equated the role of resveratrol as imposing a sort of "crowd control" at the brain border, shutting out unwanted immune molecules that can worsen brain inflammation and kill neurons. According to Dr. Charbel Moussa, scientific and clinical research director of the GUMC Translational Neurotherapeutics Program:
"These are very exciting findings because it shows that resveratrol engages the brain in a measurable way, and that the immune response to Alzheimer's disease comes, in part, from outside the brain."7
Medical News Today explains that brain inflammation which, again, makes Alzheimer's worse, is thought to occur because of a reaction to accumulated proteins in the brain, including Abeta40 and Abeta42.
Earlier studies appeared to show inflammation came only from immune cells in the brain. This study ostensibly refuted that belief. Also:
"The primary molecule of interest to the researchers was matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9). The team found a 50 percent reduction of MMP-9 in the CSF of those taking [a] daily resveratrol dose."8
Another study involving resveratrol given to mice had interesting effects, including increased aerobic activity and running time, protection against diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance, regulated metabolic function and stable health overall.9
Resveratrol Helps Control Inflammation, Present in Most Disease
Inflammation can be implicated in nearly every disease. Dr. Josh Axe, founder of Exodus Health Center, one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world, asserts that it's also been found to be associated with just about every health condition:
"Although inflammation has long been known to play a role in allergic diseases like asthma, arthritis and Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and Parkinson's disease may all be related to chronic inflammation in the body.
Inflammation isn't always bad; it is the body's natural defense against damaged cells, viruses, bacteria, etc. It aims to remove these harmful or foreign invaders and heal itself."10
Because of resveratrol's extraordinary capabilities as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, taking resveratrol supplements and eating the foods that contain it can go a long way toward lowering inflammation. However, another immediate and meaningful way to deal with it is to rid your body of inflammation triggers in your diet. Four common aggravators include:
- Oxidized cholesterol, such as from overcooked scrambled eggs
- Any food cooked at high temperatures
- Trans fats (read labels to avoid interesterified or hydrogenated oils)
- Sugar and grain
Several herbs and spices come loaded with potent anti-inflammatory potential as well. Examples cited in Bulletproof 36011 note that one-half teaspoon of ground cinnamon has the same antioxidants as one-half cup of blueberries, and one-half teaspoon of dried oregano has similar antioxidants to those present in 3 cups of raw spinach. Here are more:
Resveratrol and Its Impact on Cancer
A study in Spain discussed how free radicals play a key role in disease, cause DNA damage and leave the door wide open for carcinogens to take root. In fact:
"Epidemiological studies have established a relationship between the incidence of cancer and consumption of certain types of food. The presence of antioxidants in diet has been directly related to lower incidence of cancer.
In fact, chemoprevention has attracted the attention of oncologists and molecular biologists to modulate carcinogenesis. A chemopreventive agent can inhibit carcinogenesis either by blocking initiation or by stopping or reversing promotion and progression."12
Resveratrol is one of the top five chemopreventive agents found in food, among such illustrious players as curcumin, lycopene, capsaicin, lutein, beta carotene, selenium, vitamin E, flavonoids, dietary fiber and many others.13
Additionally, resveratrol's ability to lower inflammation also helps prevent certain enzymes from forming that would trigger the development of cancerous tumors.14 Resveratrol helps cut down cell reproduction, which in turn lowers the number of cell divisions that might cause cancer cell growth.15
An example of the way resveratrol works was shown two different ways in one clinical study at the University of Missouri. Melanoma cancer cells were found to be more vulnerable to radiation treatment when treated with resveratrol beforehand. Notably, resveratrol used by itself caused 44 percent of the cancerous cells to undergo apoptosis, or programmed cell death.16
One very interesting review from Denmark revealed that it's a balance between resveratrol intake via supplementation and food sources, along with exercise, that keeps your sugar levels on an even keel and minimizes inflammation that helps maximize your health.