Resveratrol Causes Rogue Cells to Self-Destruct

Written by Dr. Joseph Mercola

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Story at-a-glance -

  • A Swiss study involving lab mice suggests resveratrol may be effective in treating lung cancer because it causes rogue cells to self-destruct — at least when administered nasally in high doses
  • The researchers observed a 45 percent decrease in tumor load in mice treated with resveratrol, noting they developed fewer and smaller tumors than untreated mice
  • Given its ability to neutralize free radicals, resveratrol is well-known for its antiaging, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties
  • Although resveratrol is available from food sources such as blueberries, dark chocolate, grape skins and red wine, its low bioavailability makes taking a supplement a more effective option
  • Pterostilbene, which has superior bioavailability and provides benefits similar to resveratrol, is another potent plant compound you may want to check out

A Swiss study1 involving lab mice suggests the grape constituent resveratrol may be effective in treating lung cancer, at least when administered nasally in high doses. The researchers observed a 45 percent decrease in tumor load in mice treated with resveratrol, noting they also developed fewer and smaller tumors than untreated mice.

Despite the favorable outcome showing resveratrol’s ability to cause rogue cells to self-destruct, more research is needed. This is so mainly because resveratrol, upon ingestion as an oral dose, is metabolized and eliminated within minutes — well before it has time to reach the lungs.

Pterostilbene is another potent plant compound similar to resveratrol that you may want to check out. It is the primary polyphenol antioxidant found in blueberries and although it possesses many similar properties, pterostilbene outperforms resveratrol with its superior bioavailability.

Lung Cancer: The World’s Deadliest Cancer

According to The Global Cancer Observatory, a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), lung cancer, which is the deadliest form of cancer in the world, has claimed more than 1.7 million lives so far in 2018.2 Deaths from lung cancer outpace those from cancers of the breast, pancreas and prostate combined.

Notably, the American Lung Association suggests smoking contributes to 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths.3 The U.S. Surgeon General issued a report in 2004 stating men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop this type of cancer than nonsmokers, whereas female smokers face a 13fold increased risk.4

Even if you have never smoked, you still may be at risk for lung cancer. A 2006 report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asserts nonsmokers have a 20 to 30 percent greater chance of developing lung cancer if exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work.5

Given the statistics, there is a clear need to continually emphasize the need to forgo the use of tobacco. If you smoke, this is yet another wake-up call emphasizing the need to quit smoking.

What Is Resveratrol and Why Is It Good for You?

Authors of the Swiss study on resveratrol and lung cancer suggest it is “one of the most studied natural products, notably for its cancer chemoprevention properties.”6 Indeed, more than 11,000 studies involving this compound can be found on the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) PubMed.gov website.7

Given the popularity of resveratrol in scientific research, you may wonder why it commands so much attention. The massive interest in resveratrol comes about mainly due to its ability to act as a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants are well-known for their antiaging and health-promoting properties, especially with respect to preventing free radical damage.

As mentioned in the featured video, resveratrol can neutralize and control free radicals, which are generated by your body in the course of normal activities like breathing, exercise and metabolism. An overabundance of free radicals can contribute to aging and a host of diseases.

Specifically, resveratrol is a polyphenol designed to increase the life span of plants through disease resistance and stressors such as disease, drastic climate changes and too much ultraviolet light. As you may imagine, humans face some of those same threats, making resveratrol a potential booster of human, as well as plant, health.

Resveratrol is found in food sources such as blueberries, grape skins, pomegranates, raspberries and red wine, as well as dark chocolate and raw cacao, among other plant-based foods. Lest you think, however, that a few extra glasses of wine would bring about the antiaging and neuroprotective benefits of resveratrol, be advised otherwise.

Gregorio Valdez, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and co-author of an earlier study investigating the antiaging potential of resveratrol, notes, "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.”8

Because alcohol is a neurotoxin known to damage your brain and organs, I advise you get resveratrol from other food sources or a supplement.

Researchers Cautiously Optimistic About the Effects of Resveratrol on Lung Cancer

As mentioned, research performed by a team of scientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) in Switzerland involving the administration of resveratrol to lab mice suggests it may be useful in treating lung cancer.

"We tried to prevent lung cancer induced by a carcinogen found in cigarette smoke by using resveratrol … in a mouse model," said Muriel Cuendet, Ph.D., associate professor in the school of pharmaceutical sciences at UNIGE.9

The study featured four groups of mice treated three times a week for 25 weeks: an untreated control group, a second group receiving just the carcinogen, a third group getting both the carcinogen and resveratrol treatment and a fourth given resveratrol only.

Given the positive outcomes, Cuendet said, "Resveratrol could therefore play a preventive role against lung cancer."11 The resveratrol solution given equated to about 1.2 milligrams (mg) per mouse or about 60 mg per kilogram. In terms of outcomes, the researchers observed:10

  • The resveratrol-treated mice showed a 27 percent decrease in tumor multiplicity and developed smaller tumors than the untreated mice
  • A 45 percent decrease in tumor load per mouse in the treated mice
  • When comparing the two groups that were not exposed to the carcinogen, 63 percent of the resveratrol-treated mice failed to develop cancer, compared to just 13 percent of the untreated mice
  • In vitro experiments suggest resveratrol’s chemoprevention mechanism is most likely related to apoptosis (programmed cell death), a process known to destroy rogue cells

Resveratrol’s Low Bioavailability Limits Its Effectiveness When Taken Orally

Despite the results with lab mice, it is unclear if resveratrol would have the same effects in humans afflicted with lung cancer, mainly because of how quickly it is metabolized and eliminated — well before it could reach the lungs. About resveratrol’s low bioavailability, the author of a 2011 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences stated:12

“The oral absorption of resveratrol in humans is about 75 percent and is thought to occur mainly by transepithelial diffusion. Extensive metabolism in the intestine and liver results in an oral bioavailability considerably less than 1 percent. Dose escalation and repeated dose administration of resveratrol does not appear to alter this significantly.

Metabolic studies, both in plasma and in urine, have revealed major metabolites to be glucuronides and sulfates of resveratrol. However, reduced dihydroresveratrol conjugates, in addition to highly polar unknown products, may account for as much as 50 percent of an oral resveratrol dose.

Although major sites of metabolism include the intestine and liver (as expected), colonic bacterial metabolism may be more important than previously thought.”

With that in mind, Aymeric Monteillier, a scientist in the UNIGE school of pharmaceutical sciences and lead study author of the current research, commented, "This is why our challenge was to find a formulation in which resveratrol could be solubilized in large quantities, even though it is poorly soluble in water, in order to allow nasal administration.”13

Monteillier went on to suggest this mouse-tested formulation could be applicable to humans and may possibly allow the compound to reach human lungs.

Underscoring the benefits of an alternative method of administration, the UNIGE researchers noted the resveratrol concentration obtained in the lungs of mice after nasal administration was 22 times higher than what would have been found if the treatment had been given orally.14

Health Benefits Associated With Resveratrol

Previous studies suggest resveratrol may benefit your health in the following ways:

Combats free radicals15

Improves brain blood flow and suppresses brain inflammation16

Contains antimicrobial and antioxidant properties17,18

May protect against depression19,20

Delivers antiaging effects21

Mimics the effects of calorie restriction22

Enhances learning and memory23

Provides neuroprotective benefits24,25

Best Sources of Resveratrol

While resveratrol can be sourced in small amounts from the foods mentioned previously, muscadine grapes contain the highest concentration — most especially in the skin and seeds. As noted, blueberries and raspberries are other sources.

Due to the fact whole fruit contains fructose, be sure to moderate your intake to ensure you consume less than 25 mg of fructose a day if you are healthy. If you are dealing with a chronic illness like cancer or diabetes, you’ll want to further restrict your daily fructose intake to 15 mg or less until your health improves.

Because it is unlikely you will be able to get therapeutic amounts of resveratrol from food, you might consider adding a whole food resveratrol supplement. I regularly take one that features both grape seed extract and grape skin extract from muscadine grapes.

One serving of that supplement, which contains 50 mg of resveratrol, contains the same amount of resveratrol you’d find in 39 eight-ounce glasses of wine. To prevent your body from developing a tolerance to resveratrol, I recommend you cycle it — consuming it on weekdays, for example, and taking a break from it on weekends.

What’s Next for Resveratrol Research and Lung Cancer?

Now that the intranasal method of administration has been established, the UNIGE team is moving on to identify a potential biomarker that will support them in selecting people eligible for preventive treatment with resveratrol.

As noted by the study authors, “This study presents an effective way to overcome [resveratrol’s] low oral bioavailability, encouraging a reevaluation of its use in future clinical trials.”26

Interestingly, the scientists suggest resveratrol could potentially benefit current and former smokers were it to be successfully developed for use in nebulizers and e-cigarettes. Given the health hazards associated with them, I cannot recommend e-cigarettes or vaping as safe alternatives to smoking. That said, the researchers commented:27

“For ex-smokers, one could easily imagine a nebulizer similar to those used for beta-2-sympathomimetic administration in asthma …

A [resveratrol] containing electronic cigarette could combine the advantage of pharmacological cancer chemopreventive activity with promotion of the transition from conventional tobacco products to electronic cigarettes.”

An Alternative to Resveratrol: Pterostilbene May Be Even Better

Besides resveratrol, a lesser-known inflammation fighter called pterostilbene also deserves attention. It is the predominant polyphenol antioxidant found in blueberries. Similar to resveratrol, pterostilbene is a stilbene but it has far superior bioavailability.

While resveratrol is considered to be about 20 to 25 percent bioavailable, pterostilbene is known for its 80 percent bioavailability, meaning your body can use it more effectively and efficiently.28 Some experts suggest the two compounds are better when consumed together, noting they will act synergistically to boost your health and help prevent disease. About pterostilbene, authors of a 2013 study designed to review its antioxidant properties stated:29,30

"The antioxidant activity of pterostilbene has been implicated in anticarcinogenesis, modulation of neurological disease, anti-inflammation, attenuation of vascular disease and amelioration of diabetes.

Substantial evidence suggests that pterostilbene may have numerous preventive and therapeutic properties in a vast range of human diseases that include neurological, cardiovascular, metabolic and hematologic disorders.

Further benefits of pterostilbene have been reported in preclinical trials, in which pterostilbene was shown to be a potent anticancer agent in several malignancies.”

In terms of pterostilbene’s value as an anticancer compound, the researchers said:31

“Studies suggest pterostilbene exhibits the hallmark characteristics of an effective anticancer agent based on its antineoplastic properties in several common malignancies. In vitro models have shown pterostilbene inhibits cancer growth through alteration of the cell cycle, induction of apoptosis and inhibition of metastasis.

In vivo, pterostilbene inhibits tumorigenesis and metastasis with negligible toxicity. Pterostilbene has also been shown to be effective as an inducer of antioxidant capacity in multiple cancer cell lines that may facilitate its function as an anticarcinogenic compound.

Additionally, preliminary studies show pterostilbene exhibits much greater bioavailability compared [to] other stilbene compounds.”

Before You Begin Taking Resveratrol and Pterostilbene, Talk to Your Health Care Provider

Beyond the benefits already mentioned, a study published in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine32 suggests when given in daily doses of 250 mg, pterostilbene also can be useful to lower your blood pressure. Additionally, it has been shown to reduce anxiety in experiments involving lab mice.33

While the news about resveratrol and pterostilbene seems promising, more research is needed to validate the true extent of their health-benefiting potential. Before you begin taking either or both of them in supplement form, I suggest you talk to your health care practitioner first.

As you may imagine, taking any supplement indiscriminately is unlikely to have beneficial effects. Why? Because your body does best when it receives the right nutrients at the right time, in the right amount. Keep that guiding principle in mind as you seek to take control of your health.

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