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Resveratrol

What Should I Know About It?

By

Updated September 26, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Resveratrol is a popular natural remedy said to offer a broad range of health benefits. Found naturally in the skin of grapes, resveratrol is widely available in supplement form. Research shows that resveratrol acts as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory. Although a number of laboratory and animal-based studies suggest that resveratrol may provide certain health benefits, research on the health effects of resveratrol in humans is somewhat limited.

Why Do People Use Resveratrol?

Proponents claim that resveratrol can help treat or prevent the following conditions:

Resveratrol is also said to slow the aging process and promote weight loss.

Benefits of Resveratrol

Here's a look at the science behind claims for the health benefits of resveratrol:

1) Weight Loss

To date, most of the data on resveratrol and weight loss have come from preliminary research. In one of the most recent studies on resveratrol and weight loss, scientists found that resveratrol may stimulate the expression of adiponectin (a hormone shown to possess anti-obesity properties and fight insulin resistance). Published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2011, the study tested the effects of resveratrol on cells and animal models.

Previously published test-tube and animal-based studies show that resveratrol may help speed up metabolism and counteract the formation of fat cells. In a 2009 report from Nutrition Research Reviews, however, scientists cautioned that resveratrol should not be recommended for obesity prevention or treatment until more is known about its safety and effectiveness as a weight-loss aid.

2) Cancer

Resveratrol holds promise in the prevention and treatment of cancer, according to a 2011 report from the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Indeed, a number of preliminary studies suggest that resveratrol may have anti-cancer effects. In a 2008 study on cell cultures, for example, resveratrol helped suppress breast cancer progression in its earliest stages. Published in Cancer Prevention Research, the study found that resveratrol helped prevent estrogen from reacting with DNA molecules and forming compounds that mark the start of cancer cell formation.

Despite these findings, the American Cancer Society cautions that randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm the cancer-fighting effects of resveratrol.

3) Heart Disease

Resveratrol shows potential in the treatment of heart disease, suggests a 2010 report from Molecular Aspects of Medicine. Sizing up the available research on resveratrol and cardiovascular health, the report's authors noted that resveratrol may help decrease LDL ("bad") cholesterol, prevent hardening of the arteries and keep blood pressure in check. But since most of the available data come from animal-based research, it's too soon to recommend resveratrol in the prevention or treatment of any heart condition.

4) Aging

In a 2009 review of recent studies on red wine's health effects, researchers determined that resveratrol may aid in the prevention of age-related disorders (such as inflammation and neurodegenerative disease).

In a more recent study, resveratrol supplements were found to suppress inflammation in a small group of adults. Published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the study assigned 20 participants to take either a placebo pill or 40 mg of resveratrol once a day for six weeks. Results revealed that resveratrol helped reduce oxidative stress (an aging-related biological process linked to a number of diseases) and inflammation. According to the study's authors, these findings suggested that resveratrol may help protect against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. However, more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

5) Skin Care

Preliminary research indicates that resveratrol may fight skin damage caused by ultraviolet light. For instance, a 2005 study from The FASEB Journal found that resveratrol may protect against aging when applied directly to the skin. To date, however, there is a lack of clinical trials testing the skin-protecting effects of topically applied resveratrol.

What Is Trans-Resveratrol?

Trans-resveratrol is a form of resveratrol commonly found in supplements. Proponents often claim that trans-resveratrol is the most stable form of resveratrol. Indeed, a 2010 study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that trans-resveratrol remained stable even after exposure to heat, cold and ultraviolet light.

Natural Sources

One of the richest sources of resveratrol is red wine, which is fermented with grape skins longer than white wine. It's important to note, however, that consuming too much alcohol may raise your risk of high blood pressure, liver damage, obesity and some forms of cancer. To boost your resveratrol intake without consuming an excessive amount of alcohol, try eating resveratrol-rich foods like grapes, blueberries, cranberries and pomegranate (all of which are rich in a range of antioxidants and other nutrients).

Side Effects of Resveratrol

Since resveratrol may possess estrogen-like properties, some medical experts recommend that people with hormone-sensitive cancers (including some forms of breast cancer) avoid taking resveratrol. In addition, resveratrol should be used with caution among people taking anti-platelet medications.

When Should I Use It?

Although resveratrol shows promise in the treatment and/or prevention of several conditions, little is known about the long-term health effects of taking resveratrol supplements. If you're considering using resveratrol supplements for any condition, talk to your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.

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