Resveratrol -- A Fountain of Youth?
November 5, 2010
By Beth Klos, R.D., L.D.N.
"Ads for this juice say it contains resveratrol to keep me young forever no matter what I eat! But, my dietitian advised drinking only small portions of fruit juice because more may make me gain weight and will spike my blood sugar. Hm, maybe a resveratrol supplement is the way to go?"
Resveratrol has attracted interest for its potential to reduce the effects of aging, prevent cancer, inflammation, diabetes, blood clotting and heart disease.
What is resveratrol and why has it garnered so much attention? Is there evidence to support taking resveratrol supplements?
Resveratrol is part of a group of chemicals called "phytoalexins." Plants make them to fight fungal and bacterial infections. It's their own supply of medicine. When under stress from infection, exposure to UV radiation or physical injury, some plants make resveratrol.
Resveratrol has many interesting properties. Among them are its antioxidant and phytoestrogen qualities.
Red wine is a well-known source of resveratrol. But it's also found in:
Red wine and Itadori tea have the highest amounts of resveratrol. But resveratrol content is affected by growing conditions and varies by type of plants. For example, different cultivars of grapes have different amounts of resveratrol.
We are still learning details about the sources of resveratrol and their exact content because the compound has been studied for very a relatively short time.
Because it is found in grapes, some people claim that resveratrol is responsible for the lower rates of heart disease in France, despite cuisine that is rich in saturated fat. (This is called the French paradox. ) But it's unlikely that any one substance is a "magic bullet." Instead, the phytochemicals and botanicals found in the fruit and juice of grapes used to make European table wine probably work together.
There are no human studies to support the use of resveratrol supplements to fight aging and improve longevity. The buzz about resveratrol comes from studies in mice, flies, round worms and even yeast. For example:
These studies may provide a model for what may happen in humans, but they are only the starting point for further study. For example, one study is tracking the resveratrol intake among a Spanish population. More research like this could shed light on the possible beneficial effect of foods with resveratrol.
While taking resveratrol supplements does not appear to result in severe problems, long-term data are lacking. Taking these supplements may not be safe for children, pregnant or lactating women, or women who are trying to become pregnant.
Until we know more about resveratrol's potential as a treatment for aging, what can we do to age "successfully" right now? I interviewed Dr. Juergen Bludau, Acting Chief of Geriatric Clinical Services and Director of the Center for Older Adult Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital. His book, Aging, But Never Old: The Realties, Myths and Misrepresentations of the Anti-Aging Movement, was just published.
He graciously agreed to share four practical ways to age successfully:
As for resveratrol, Dr. Bludau agrees the research so far does not indicate it improves longevity in humans. While the future may bring interesting new research, you can still protect your longevity now with Dr. Bludau's practical suggestions.
Beth Klos, R.D., L.D.N., is a Senior Nutritionist who counsels outpatients at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She completed her undergraduate degree at University of Rhode Island and her dietetic internship at Brigham and Women's Hospital