Resveratrol, a health-promoting compound found in grapes, has been shown to increase life span in several animal species. In a recent Harvard study, mice that consumed a high-calorie diet known to shorten life lived longer when they also consumed resveratrol. These mice also had better coordination, less heart and liver damage, and better insulin sensitivity than overweight mice that were not fed resveratrol.

Scientists have proposed that resveratrol in red wine may help explain the “French paradox”—the fact that cardiovascular disease rates in France are relatively low, despite a diet traditionally high in fat.  Because widespread use of pesticides has diminished the amount of resveratrol contained in grapes and red wine, supplemental resveratrol may the best way to ensure optimal intake.

Laboratory and animal studies suggest that resveratrol may have therapeutic potential for cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammatory arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative conditions. Clinical trials studying resveratrol’s effects on cancer and diabetes are also under way.  Resveratrol may enhance health and support longevity via several mechanisms. These include its potent antioxidant effects, ability to enhance cellular energy production, and ability to influence patterns of gene expression in a manner similar to caloric restriction (the best-documented method of extending life span in animals).

Cardiovascular Health

One of resveratrol’s most studied applications involves the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Resveratrol may inhibit platelets from clumping together, thus reducing the risk of deadly blood clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke. Furthermore, resveratrol helps improve blood flow by exerting beneficial effects on the linings of small blood vessels, known as the endothelium. This is a critical finding, since endothelial dysfunction is believed to underlie the progression of atherosclerosis.

Resveratrol exhibits a range of anti-cancer properties. In laboratory cell studies, resveratrol has been found to inhibit the growth of numerous types of cancer, including leukemias, multiple myeloma, melanoma, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate, stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, thyroid, uterine cervix, and head and neck. Resveratrol suppresses tumor growth by increasing or decreasing the production of various enzymes and molecules that regulate cellular reproduction and blood supply to the tumor. Through these mechanisms, resveratrol may enhance the anti-cancer effects of chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation. With its potent antioxidant capabilities, resveratrol may even protect healthy tissues from damage induced by chemotherapy. Since chemotherapy harms both healthy and cancerous tissues, this finding may have important applications in helping cancer patients tolerate its effects.

Inflammation and Arthritis
A common culprit in heart disease, cancer, and arthritis is chronic inflammation, mediated by naturally produced compounds in the body known as prostaglandins and cytokines. By blocking the activity of such inflammatory compounds, resveratrol may have therapeutic applications for all of these conditions. In a recently published study, scientists reported that resveratrol shows promise as a potential therapy for arthritis. When administered to animals with experimentally induced inflammatory arthritis, resveratrol protected cartilage against inflammatory changes related to the disease.

Resveratrol shows promise in protecting the brain and nervous system against disorders associated with aging and genetic factors. In laboratory studies, resveratrol’s antioxidant effect has been shown to protect against nerve cell damage caused by beta-amyloid peptide, which accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers. This has led several research teams to propose that resveratrol may be a useful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. According to a recent report, resveratrol demonstrated a protective effect against Huntington’s
disease in animal models. Huntington’s is a genetic disease associated with impaired motor skills and reduced mental abilities.  Additionally, grape seed extract appears to protect rat brain cells and maintain the overall viability of the nervous system. Grape seed exerts these effects by modulating proteins implicated in cognitive disorders.

Resveratrol may offer benefits in preventing or managing conditions associated with high blood sugar, such as metabolic syndrome or diabetes. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a company founded by Dr. David Sinclair, leader of the Harvard resveratrol study, is conducting a clinical trial to evaluate resveratrol’s effects in controlling blood sugar in patients with diabetes.