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The Role of Resveratrol in Achieving Optimal Health

Fact Checked

Muscadine grapes

Story at-a-glance -

  • Resveratrol is a naturally occurring compound found in a number of plants. It belongs to stilbenes, a class of polyphenolic compounds, and acts like an antioxidant
  • Aside from certain wholesome foods, you can get your needed supply from high-quality supplements. Here’s what you need to know about proper resveratrol supplementation

Have you heard of the so-called "French Paradox?" It refers to the fact that despite their high cholesterol and high saturated fat diet, the French do not contract heart disease because of their high red wine intake.1 While this belief most likely stemmed from a marketing campaign perpetuated by the wine industry,2 there may be some truth to this, as red wine contains a potent antioxidant known as resveratrol.

However, drinking red wine is not the only way to get resveratrol, and you should not rely on it as your primary source of this antioxidant as it can pose many negative effects (more on this later). But first, let's touch on what resveratrol is and how it does your body good. 

What Is Resveratrol?

Resveratrol, also known as 3,4',5-trihydroxystilbene, is a naturally occurring compound found in a number of plants. It belongs to stilbenes, a class of polyphenolic compounds, and acts like an antioxidant. Resveratrol is actually designed to help increase the life span of these plants by making them resistant to diseases, injury and various stressors, including excessive UV radiation, drastic climate changes and fungal infections.3

The discovery of resveratrol can be attributed to Japanese scientist Michio Takaoka, who first isolated the compound in 1939. He took it from white hellebore, a poisonous medicinal plant. Many years later, in 1963, another Japanese scientist known only as Nonomura isolated resveratrol from Japanese knotweed, an herb that has been used for many centuries to help treat liver and cardiovascular illnesses.

It was only in 1976 when the presence of resveratrol in grapes became known, and only in 1992 was it discovered to be in wine. More studies regarding the potential benefits of resveratrol are still being conducted.4

Ditch the Red Wine: Here Are Other Food Sources of Resveratrol

Clearly, you can get resveratrol from a number of plant foods, but most people believe the misconception that they can simply drink red wine to reap the benefits of this potent antioxidant. But as mentioned above, this can pose many drastic health effects.  

Although some studies claim that resveratrol is highly soluble in alcohol, making it more absorbable in red wine, this should not be reason enough to rely on this as your main source. First of all, alcohol is a neurotoxic that can severely damage your brain and other organs. Plus, it increases your insulin levels.

Wine has also been shown to harbor glyphosate, the active and carcinogenic ingredient in the Roundup herbicide. Hence, I would advise you to get this compound from healthier food sources or to take a resveratrol supplement.

It is said that when you consume resveratrol, you get the protective effects it imparts to plants, too. Muscadine grapes are known to have the highest resveratrol concentration in nature, mainly because of their extra thick skins and numerous seeds – these are actually where the compound is mostly concentrated. In fact, one gram of fresh grape skin contains at least 50 to 100 micrograms of resveratrol. Other potent sources of this nutrient include:

The problem with most of these food sources, specifically the grapes and berries, is that they're particularly high in fructose. Consuming them in excessive amounts may prove to be detrimental, especially if you're one of those who suffer from insulin resistance.

In addition, if you want to get resveratrol from cacao, make sure that you consume organic dark chocolate or raw cacao, and not the milk chocolate varieties that are loaded with sugar. Another potent yet lesser-known source of resveratrol is itadori tea, or Japanese knotweed. This has long been used in China and Japan as a traditional herbal remedy for stroke and heart disease.5

If you aren't receiving enough resveratrol from food sources such as these, I  recommend taking a high-quality resveratrol supplement. Ideally, look for a whole food complex that makes use of muscadine grape skin and seeds.

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What Are the Benefits of Resveratrol?

As an antioxidant, resveratrol is known for combatting damaging free radicals in your body. However, its benefits go beyond that, as it has been found to have anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties as well, both of which are well established by science. That is why this potent compound can be highly useful for helping to fight and reduce the risk of a variety of chronic illnesses.

One of the standout benefits of this potent antioxidant is its neuroprotective effects, which may help slow or prevent the progression of Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and stroke. Resveratrol can cross your blood-brain barrier to quell inflammation in your central nervous system. This type of inflammation actually plays an important role in the development of neurodegenerative illnesses.

Resveratrol also shows promise in improving cerebral blood flow, which is responsible for its protective effects against stroke and vascular dementia. To summarize, here are some of the effects that resveratrol can have on your brain (and overall) health:

  • May help protect against depression6
  • Helps improve brain blood flow
  • Helps suppress brain inflammation
  • May prevent plaque that leads to Alzheimer's
  • Has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties
  • May improve learning and memory

Another impressive way that resveratrol can boost your well-being is its ability to improve mitochondrial health. According to one study, mice that are on a high-calorie diet exhibited better health and a higher survival rate after taking resveratrol.7

In another research, it was found that improved mitochondrial health through resveratrol helped protect against metabolic disease, diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance. It does this by activating SIRT1 and PGC-1alpha, which are the primary drivers for mitochondrial biogenesis.8

Studies Show Resveratrol May Have Potential Benefits Against Cancer

There is a growing number of studies that support resveratrol's potential effects on cancer, with evidence dating as far back as 1997. Cancer researchers took great interest in these findings, particularly its ability to make cancerous tumors more vulnerable to conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.9

A 2011 review of dietary agents that have tumor-sensitizing properties (making them more susceptible to chemo drugs) found that resveratrol was a clear candidate owing to its multi-targeting properties. Some cancers that resveratrol had a substantial effect on include:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Acute myeloid and promyelocytic leukemia
  • Oral epidermoid carcinoma
  • Lung carcinoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Pancreatic cancer

Resveratrol was also shown to help alleviate some of the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which include depression, fatigue, anorexia, neuropathic pain and sleep disorders, to name a few. The study authors noted that these symptoms occur due to dysregulation of inflammatory pathways in your system, which clearly explains the efficacy of this antioxidant.10

Resveratrol Dosage: How Much Should You Get?

Take note that the some of the studies on resveratrol's effects on diseases usually employ high doses of resveratrol – higher than most supplements. For example, the largest U.S. clinical trial on resveratrol, which involved 119 Alzheimer's patients, made use of doses as high as 1 gram per day – this is typically higher than most supplements,11 which are only around 250 to 500 milligrams per dose.

Ideally, consult a physician if you want to take resveratrol for its therapeutic effects, as you may need proper guidance if you want to take higher doses. Nevertheless, even just regular supplementation and getting it from food sources may already offer profound impacts on your well-being.

Are There Side Effects of Resveratrol To Be Aware Of?

Resveratrol is generally safe, and according to WebMD,12 there are no severe side effects associated with this supplement, even in high doses. However, please note that resveratrol is recommended for adults ages 18 years old and older. Do not give this supplement to children, as well as pregnant or breastfeeding women, without the advice of a health practitioner.

Resveratrol may also interact with medications like blood thinners and NSAIDs, so refrain from taking this supplement if you're using these prescription drugs.13

Resveratrol Can Reap Benefits, but Only With a Solid Nutritional Foundation

The benefits of resveratrol can be far-reaching, but take note that taking it will be useless if you do not address your overall diet and lifestyle. Make sure that you cover the basics, such as consuming healthy, well-balanced meals, following a regular exercise routine, managing your stress and getting sufficient sleep.  As with other supplements, resveratrol only serves as a complement to your diet and should not be treated as a solution or cure to your health problems.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Resveratrol

Q: What does resveratrol do?

A: Resveratrol is a polyphenolic compounds that naturally occurs in plants. It works as a potent antioxidant that makes plants resistant to diseases, injury and various stressors, including excessive UV radiation, drastic climate changes and fungal infections. Hence, it is said that when you consume resveratrol, you also get the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that it offers.

Q: What is resveratrol used for?

A: Resveratrol is basically used to help combat damaging free radicals in the body. It has shown promise in helping treat and prevent chronic illnesses, and has a particularly potent neuroprotective effect, offering protection against diseases like vascular dementia, Alzheimer's disease and stroke. It's also shown promise in boosting mitochondrial health and may even have anti-cancer benefits, according to studies.