Whether you know it for its reported ability to build muscle, alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, or fight free radicals, there’s no denying resveratrol is booming in popularity.
Before we dive into five of the biggest health benefits of this powerful antioxidant, let’s break down what it actually is, explore where it occurs in nature, and take a quick look at the best ways to incorporate it into your diet.
What is Resveratrol?
Resveratrol (also known as 3, 5, 4-trihydroxy-trans-stilbene if you want to get technical) is a naturally occurring polyphenol belonging to the stilbenes class of phytochemicals. It’s also classified as a phytoalexin—a type of compound produced by plants when they are under attack.
Polyphenolic substances have two phenols—organic compounds characterized by their hydroxyl (-OH) groups, circular rings connected by an ethylene bridge.
Stilbenoids are a subclass of polyphenols and represent a group of naturally occurring compounds that are produced by plant sapwood and leaves as stress metabolites to fight off fungal infections and ionizing radiation.
In nature, resveratrol has been found in over seventy plant species, where it is called on when the plant is harmed or under threat of attack from fungi or other bacteria.
While resveratrol is a natural phytochemical produced to combat infections, mechanical injury, and UV irradiation, its diverse range of biological and cellular activity make it beneficial to humans. As a polyphenol, resveratrol has been shown to possess robust antioxidant activity.
Being an antioxidant, resveratrol is thought to help prevent oxidative stress in the body by eliminating free radicals, thereby minimizing damage to cells and the body by reactive oxygen species. While free radicals play a crucial role in fighting off pathogens, in excess, they can cause damage to DNA, fatty tissue, and proteins.
While further research is still needed, initial studies show resveratrol has promising possibilities in humans for promoting heart and brain health and promoting anti-aging and anti-inflammation. Preliminary animal studies have even drawn links between resveratrol and a drop in diabetes-related deaths.
Where does it occur naturally?
Resveratrol has been detected in over seventy plant species, including grapefruit seeds and skin, peanuts, mulberries, raspberries, blueberries, lingonberries, cranberries, and pistachios, although in discrete amounts. It's also found naturally in high concentrations in Japanese knotweed.
What is its history?
Early uses of resveratrol for its health properties can be traced back thousands of years to Indian tribes who consumed the antioxidant by way of a ground-up, fermented grape juice. Since then, numerous studies have been carried out, first at a molecular level, then using animal and human subjects to test resveratrol's ability to treat a whole range of ailments and illnesses. In 2020, these studies continue and have grown to include cancer, heart disease, and other significant contributors to early death in Western civilizations.
How is it consumed?
It’s possible to consume resveratrol naturally in an average diet, particularly if that diet is rich in fruits and nuts like those mentioned above. While trace amounts of the antioxidant have been found in a wide range of foods, the quantity of resveratrol can be hard to pinpoint, with inconsistencies found in foods grown in different regions and even different seasons.
For this reason, one of the most popular ways to consume the antioxidant is by supplement, with tablets and powders readily available online or in pharmacies and health food stores.
Health benefits of resveratrol
While studies of the potential uses of resveratrol are ongoing, many links have already been established between the antioxidant and both disease mitigation and overall well-being. Let’s have a look at the top five benefits.
It lowers blood pressure
High blood pressure is known to contribute to life-threatening conditions like stroke and cardiac issues. In fact, according to a report by the CDC, one out of every three individuals in the US struggles with high blood pressure.
Numerous studies over the past decade have shown a link between the moderate consumption of red wine and a drop in blood pressure. Why? The grapes used to produce red wine are naturally high in resveratrol.
A recent study published by the King’s College London in collaboration with other organizations such as the British Heart Foundation has found conclusive evidence to show the cardiovascular health benefits of resveratrol in lowering hypertension.
In this study, researchers induced hypertension in mice by administering angiotensin II—a hormone that causes vasoconstriction (the narrowing of blood vessels, thereby raising blood pressure).
They then put the mice on a diet high in resveratrol-containing foods and monitored their blood pressure over a fifteen-day period. It was at this point that scientists noticed a significant drop in the blood pressure of the mice.
It promotes longevity
We all know aging is (unfortunately) inevitable. Despite this, it’s the vast potential of resveratrol that has lead more and more scientists to explore its potential to slow down the aging process and even, in some cases, reverse the visible signs of aging.
The physiological process of aging is characterized by the slow deterioration of biological and cellular function, which increases one’s susceptibility to disease and eventually death.
Some diseases typically associated with aging include heart disease and metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes. In animal tests, caloric restriction (CR) helps minimize the risk of developing these conditions.
Numerous studies have yielded evidence to suggest that CR can help lengthen the lifespan of nonhuman species, which may be beneficial to human beings. But, it’s not feasible to use caloric restriction in humans for extended periods of time… we just like to eat too much.
That said, there are chemical compounds such as resveratrol that mimic the positive effects of CR without requiring you to cut back on food and could, theoretically speaking, improve human health.
According to this literature review, resveratrol has been proven to be effective in prolonging the lifespan of model organisms as much as 60 percent of the time. It is worth noting that studies exploring the benefits of resveratrol on the aging process are in their infancy, and more research is needed.
Helps alleviate joint pain
Other than lowering blood pressure and promoting longevity in some test subjects, resveratrol has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve joint pain.
Let’s have a look at how that works.
Inflammation is natural and forms a part of the normal immunological response of the human body in response to irritating or harmful stimuli like a physical injury or infection. Inflammation typically starts the healing process and helps repair damaged cells or tissue. Without it, infections and wounds would fester, which could spell trouble for the body.
Joint pain is often felt during periods of inflammation when the body is working to heal itself. This can become a problem when the pain becomes persistent. This can even progress to chronic inflammation where instead of healing, it starts eroding joints, and that’s where resveratrol’s anti-inflammatory properties come in.
Studies have shown that resveratrol plays a significant role in inhibiting TNF-alpha, helping reduce or even stop extended periods of joint swelling and pain.
Protects against neurodegenerative diseases
Neurodegenerative diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s are caused by oxidative stress, a condition brought about by an imbalance between antioxidants and reactive oxygen species in the body.
Increasing cases of neurodegenerative conditions have led to a surge in research on polyphenolic compounds such as resveratrol to determine whether their antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties can be used to protect against these diseases.
So how can resveratrol help?
The accumulation of free radicals in the body can damage genetic material and proteins, destroy membrane structure, decrease membrane potential in mitochondria—cell organelles responsible for respiration—as well as increase the plasma membrane’s permeability to calcium cations.
Cells of the Central Nervous System (CNS) like neurons are particularly susceptible to the effects of stroke/ischemia, seizures, and neurotoxins. The main cause of these? Oxidative stress.
As an antioxidant, resveratrol has been shown to offer protection against a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.
While its exact mode of action has yet to be discovered, numerous studies have demonstrated its metal-chelating, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidative properties. What's more, resveratrol has been shown to activate a subclass of deacetylase known as sirtuin 1 (SIRT1).
SIRT1 has been identified as a viable therapeutic target for treating aging diseases. By activating SIRT1, resveratrol can protect neuroblastoma cells from cytotoxicity and oxidative stress damage.
Slows down atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a gradual condition characterized by the buildup of fibrous tissues and lipids in the body’s vascular system (especially arteries) forming plaque. When plaque develops in the body, it can solidify in the vascular system, narrowing blood vessels and restricting blood flow to tissues and organs throughout the body.
Because of this, atherosclerosis is a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease and is responsible for about a third of deaths in the modern world.
It can lead to life-threatening medical conditions such as stroke, heart attacks, and, in the worst case, death. What’s more, it can target any artery in your body regardless of location, so everything from your brain to legs to kidneys to the pelvis to the heart are all fair game.
For atherosclerosis to develop, lipoprotein cholesterol (low density) is oxidized before accumulating in macrophages, which leads to the formation of foam cells—this is an essential step in the progression of atherosclerosis.
This is where resveratrol can help.
The antioxidant effectively slows down this process by disrupting initiation, interrupting progression, preventing the modification of lipoprotein cholesterol (low density), regulating vasoconstriction and vasodilation, neutralizing reactive oxygen species, and preventing the agglomeration of platelets, which ultimately impedes the development of atherosclerosis.
The bottom line
By now, you are probably interested in the health benefits of resveratrol and the massive potential it has to slow down and even cure a wide range of diseases affecting humans today.
As well as lowering blood pressure, slowing down the aging process and promoting longevity, alleviating joint pain, protecting against neurodegenerative diseases, and slowing down atherosclerosis, newer studies have drawn links between resveratrol and a wide range of other health benefits.
As more case studies and anecdotal evidence comes to light, more and more research will be undertaken to further explore the potential of resveratrol.
While in the early stages, some studies investigating the effect of the antioxidant on cancer and other diseases are returning promising results.