Resveratrol: Is Wine Really Good for Your Heart and Health?
“Step right up ladies and gentlemen and try the world’s most amazing elixir. It gives you energy, melts wrinkles away, and even makes your children do their homework!”
Sounds like the barking pitch of yesterday’s medicine man, doesn’t it? Or does it?
Today, these sideshow vendors have moved their elixir wagons to the Internet, selling promises of better vision, better hearts, better sex, heck, a better life.
Some of the pitches are obvious fabrications (“Lose 20 pounds in 20 minutes!”) while others make you stop and pause. Like resveratrol.
Is It Real or Is It Snake Oil…
There’s no question that there is something to the adulation surrounding resveratrol, the much-touted antioxidant found in wine, grapes, and even cocoa powder, peanuts, and mulberries.
This “miracle nutrient” has been heralded as a phytoestrogen1 and an anticarcinogenic2 nutrient. It has even been shown to reduce chronic fatigue in mice3.
While the jury is still out on many of these health claims, there is one area where there seems to be no doubt that resveratrol is the real thing: cardiovascular health.
The Heart of the Matter…
The key to resveratrol’s cardiovascular support lies in its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and blood flow properties.
For example, according to a study from the European Journal of Pharmacology4, resveratrol helps protect you atherosclerosis, or plaque build up in the arteries.
As we’ve written in the past, when it comes to atherosclerosis, LDL cholesterol gets a bad rap and quite unjustly. The problem occurs when LDL cholesterol becomes oxidized, or inflamed.
To counter this, researchers looked to see if resveratrol could help reduce inflammation and oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which could then help prevent atherosclerosis.
Using a cell culture consisting of human umbilical cells from the inner lining of a vein, researchers created a control group, an LDL group, and an oxidized LDL group.
They found that resveratrol prevented the growth of LDL cholesterol cells, while also helping to partially avoid an inflammatory response in the oxidized LDL cells. In plain English, this means that the resveratrol helped keep LDL cholesterol under control and inflammation and oxidation free.
Researchers concluded that resveratrol in particular seems to be a “potent” agent for the treatment of atherosclerosis, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Now, you may be thinking, “But that’s a cell study in a lab. What about humans?” Glad you asked.
In a double blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, crossover study (talk about gold standard!), researchers had 19 overweight men and women with untreated borderline high blood pressure take three different doses of resveratrol, as well as a placebo, in weekly intervals.5
The three doses were 30 mg, 90 mg, and 270 mg daily. Researchers found that 270 mg of resveratrol significantly improved flow-mediated dilation (a critical measure of blood flow and blood pressure), as compared to placebo, boosting flow from 4.1 to 7.7.
Researchers concluded that high doses of resveratrol increased flow-mediated dilation and that this effect “may contribute to the purported cardiovascular health benefits of grapes and red wine.”
Gold-standard study, on humans. Good stuff. But how does it do that?
One Nutrient, Multiple Actions…
Lab studies show that resveratrol has several cardioprotective benefits. First is its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as we’ve discussed. But, even more importantly, resveratrol has also been found to help prevent clotting.
One lab study found that resveratrol blocks a signal within platelets telling them to clump together.6 While this effect was weakened once the platelets were incorporated into the bloodstream, a second study confirmed the nutrient’s ability to prevent platelet aggregation. In this animal study, researchers found that rabbits with high cholesterol that were given red wine daily enjoyed reduced clotting.7
Then there’s the whole vasodilation issue. Or to us regular folk, opening up the blood vessels.
Turns out, resveratrol also helps to keep your blood vessels wide and relaxed by promoting the production of nitric oxide,8 a nifty little compound that tells your blood vessels to relax and widen to enhance blood flow.
Clearly resveratrol can be an important part of your heart health plan. But can you reap these benefits from a great glass of merlot? Turns out, no.
Too Much Food, Too Little Resveratrol…
While we normally advocate getting your nutrients from food whenever possible, when it comes to resveratrol, you may be better off using resveratrol supplements.
When it comes to beverages, there’s not much resveratrol there.9For example, a five-ounce glass of red wine contains 0.30–1.07 mg of resveratrol. White wine has just 0.01–0.27 mg. Red grape juice rings in at 0.17–1.30 mg.
That means you would need to chug down more than 200 glasses of wine a day to reach 270 mg of resveratrol. While that may sound like fun, we don’t recommend it.
And, sadly, food doesn’t fare much better.10One cup of peanuts contains 0.01–0.26 mg of resveratrol. A cup of cocoa powder packs just 0.28–0.46 mg, while a cup of red grapes weighs in at 0.24–1.25 mg.
Again, 200 cups of grapes a day is a bit much to ask. This is one case where resveratrol supplements outweigh the foods.
Wine Less, Supplement More…
If you decide to use resveratrol as part of your health care regimen, there are a few things to keep in mind.
As we indicated, it would be next to impossible (and probably ill-advised) to drink the amount of wine or eat the number of grapes you would need to reach the therapeutic doses of resveratrol. Therefore, you should consider supplementation.
First things first. The recommended resveratrol dosage is 200–300 mg standardized to at least 8 percent total resveratrols, mixed with flavonoids for better bioavailability.
Also, look for a product that is free of preservatives, fillers, binders, excipients, flow agents, shellacs, coloring agents, gluten, yeast, lactose, and other allergens. Ideally you’ll also be able to find independent analysis done by a third party to verify the active ingredients and identify any contaminants.
And, as always, remember that NO supplement is a magic pill…and resveratrol is no exception. Good cardiovascular care, as well as overall health, always starts with a healthy diet and regular exercise. And, as it turns out, a daily dose of resveratrol.
1Gehm, BD et al. Resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound found in grapes and wine, is an agonist for the estrogen receptor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1997;94(25):14138-43.
2Schneider, Y et al. Anti-proliferative effect of resveratrol, a natural component of grapes and wine, on human colonic cancer cells. Cancer Letters 2000;158(1):85-91.
3Moriya, J et al. Resveratrol improves hippocampal atrophy in chronic fatigue mice by enhancing neurogenesis and inhibiting apoptosis of granular cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2011;34(3):354-9.
4Kostyuk, VA et al. Antioxidant and signal modulation properties of plant polyphenols in controlling vascular inflammation. Eur J Pharmacol. 2011 Mar 1. [Epub ahead of print].
5Wong, RH et al. Acute resveratrol supplementation improves flow-mediated dilatation in overweight/obese individuals with mildly elevated blood pressure. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2010 Jul 29. [Epub ahead of print.]
6Kirk, RI et al. Resveratrol decreases early signaling events in washed platelets but has little effect on platelet in whole blood. Blood Cells Mol Dis. 2000 Apr;26(2):144-50.
7Wang, Z et al. Effects of red wine and wine polyphenol resveratrol on platelet aggregation in vivo and in vitro. Int J Mol Med. 2002 Jan;9(1):77-9.
8Wallerath, T et al. Resveratrol, a polyphenolic phytoalexin present in red wine, enhances expression and activity of endothelial nitric oxide synthase. Circulation. 2002 Sep 24;196(13):1652-8.
9LeBlanc, MR. “Cultivar, Juice Extraction, Ultra Violet Irradiation and Storage Influence the Stilbene Content of Muscadine Grapes (Vitis Rotundifolia Michx.)”. http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-01202006-082858/. 2005 Dec 13.
10Higdon, J et al. “Resveratrol”. Micronutrient Information Center. Linus Pauling Institute. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/resveratrol/. 2008 May.
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