Propelled to fame from a multitude of studies on the phytochemical properties of plants, resveratrol more than lives up to its reputation. Experts have called this unique antioxidant a fountain of youth for its effectiveness against a variety of age-related conditions.
Researchers first became interested in resveratrol when studying the “French paradox" in the late 1980s: French diets were high in fatty foods, yet overall, French people experience low rates of heart disease. Scientists set out to discover why.
Soon, they found a compound in red wine, which was then isolated from the skin of grapes. The next task was to figure out how it worked in the body.
Since that time of first discovery, studies have revealed the many benefits of resveratrol, including boosting heart health, supporting normal brain function, and promoting healthy aging. The compound has powerful antioxidant effects, thereby supporting health at the cellular level.
In this post, we're going to explore 10 facts about resveratrol including what it is, where you can find it, and whether you should get it regularly from your diet.
What Is Resveratrol?
Resveratrol is a phenolic compound called a stilbene; plants produce these in response to injury, infection, fungal attack, or ultraviolet radiation. The very compounds that protect plants can also protect you.
Most phenols, including stilbenes like resveratrol, are brightly colored, aromatic, and good for your health.
Most stilbenes come from berries and grapes. They have strong antioxidant benefits, counteracting the daily "oxidative stress" that damages cells.
Resveratrol, one stilbene compound, promotes bone, cardiovascular, and liver health. This unique nutrient also supports healthy aging, improves cognitive function, and normalizes hormone production.
Types of Resveratrol
Resveratrol exists primarily in two forms, a trans and a cis form. These forms are isomers — compounds with the same number and types of atoms but arranged in different structures.
Cis and trans isomers, specifically, have atoms joined in the same order, but in a slightly different geometric configuration. That change makes cis isomers polar — carrying an electrical charge — and water-soluble, and trans molecules non-polar and fat-soluble.
This gives them quite different properties, including bioavailability — essentially, the degree and rate at which your body absorbs them after going through the digestive system, liver, and bloodstream. Below, we break down the differences plus describe a third form.
Because trans-resveratrol is fat-soluble, it binds to lipoproteins (fat-containing proteins), which allows it to easily cross cell membranes. However, the body metabolizes and eliminates it quickly, so its bioavailability is relatively low at around 25 percent — but higher than cis-resveratrol.
A double bond isomer of trans-resveratrol, this molecule is polar and soluble in water, so it less easily enters cells and is less easily used by the body. You will sometimes find it as a filler in poor quality, less pure supplements.
This form is found in wine, but also in your gut after you consume trans-resveratrol. The probiotic microbes in your digestive tract interact with trans-resveratrol, metabolizing it into dihydro-resveratrol.
Resveratrol Health Benefits
Resveratrol is perhaps best known for its positive effects on heart health, but studies have also linked it to a number of other impressive health benefits.
Let's explore 10 ways resveratrol promotes health and longevity.
1. Promotes Heart Health
Chances are, you've heard that drinking red wine is good for cardiovascular health. You may not know that experts believe resveratrol is the ingredient responsible for this positive effect on your heart.
Resveratrol helps normalize levels of “bad cholesterol," or low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Keeping bad cholesterol at healthy levels protects you against the plaque buildup in your arteries that can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Did you know that resveratrol relaxes your blood vessels, which helps maintain optimal blood pressure levels?
Additionally, resveratrol helps maintain normal blood pressure. In particular, it relaxes blood vessels, which keeps your systolic blood pressure at normal levels; systolic is the upper number on your blood pressure reading, and it tells you the tension in your arteries as blood gets pumped through.
Your blood pressure and cholesterol tend to gradually rise with age, and taking this healthy antioxidant supplement may help people enjoy their golden years with a happy heart.
2. Protects the Brain
Want a brain boost? Help is on the horizon. Some experts consider resveratrol a nootropic, a substance that helps enhance memory and brain health.
Unlike some other antioxidants, trans-resveratrol crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it can directly enter into brain cells. This allows for positive, direct support for neural health — including the brain plus the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Researchers have found that resveratrol increases blood flow to the brain. When you have increased blood flow, you get more oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients to your brain. This, in turn, helps maintain "cognitive function" — the ability to think clearly, have a healthy memory, and stay focused.
One study of 23 older adults observed significant improvements in memory among participants taking resveratrol. The compound offered the additional benefit of improving the study participants glucose metabolism and concluded that resveratrol could help maintain brain health as we age.
3. Could Help With Weight Loss
Reducing calories by 30 percent, whether by intermittent fasting or simply reducing how much you eat, supports health and longevity. Caloric restriction and fasting can advance longevity by 40 percent or more in some species. When you restrict calories, the body goes into a defensive state that has long helped humans and other living organisms survive adversity — fascinating!
Resveratrol mimics the health effects of fasting or calorie-reduction, which may help you lose weight. It does this by stimulating adiponectin creation, the same hormone that increases in individuals practicing caloric restriction.
Adiponectin promotes metabolic and cardiovascular health through weight loss, lipid metabolism, and regulation of blood sugar levels.
In other words, adiponectin helps maintain normal blood sugar, helps your heart, and helps you lose weight. Because resveratrol stimulates adiponectin, you get the benefits of both.
4. Promotes Healthy Aging
As an antioxidant, resveratrol counteracts some of the damage that free radicals cause to your cells. Your body is constantly exposed to free radicals from various sources, ranging from chemical pesticides in your food and water to the sun's UV rays — or just from normal aging.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals that enter your body from the environment and the antioxidants in your body that work to eliminate them.
This oxidative stress is responsible for some of the things that go along with your body's age-related changes. Lucky for us, studies have noted resveratrol's ability to reduce oxidative stress from free radical damage.
One 2011 study evaluated how 20 human volunteers responded to resveratrol and placebo (a sugar pill) over six weeks. Those who received resveratrol had reduced oxidative stress and lower levels of swelling and redness commonly associated with a number of age-related diseases.
In another study, resveratrol eliminated oxidative stress and had neuroprotective effects.
5. Promotes Healthy Testosterone Levels in Men
As men age, their testosterone levels often decrease. Low testosterone levels can have a negative impact on a man's physical and mental well-being.
Research indicates resveratrol positively affects reproductive function in men. One study using animal models reported increased blood testosterone levels in groups that were given resveratrol.
The study also found resveratrol supplementation helps support normal, healthy fertility in men. While this is good news for men of reproductive age, older men could benefit as well. Testosterone strengthens bones, increases muscle mass, and encourages a positive outlook in men.
6. Encourages Normal Estrogen Levels in Women
Women who consume resveratrol appear to enjoy benefits, as well, particularly older women. At menopause, estrogen levels decline rapidly. Research shows that resveratrol supplementation could help stabilize and normalize estrogen and other hormones.
A small study of postmenopausal women taking resveratrol daily for 12 weeks reported improvements in estrogen metabolism. Resveratrol also promoted normal levels of SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin).
7. Supports Liver Health
Though it may seem counter-intuitive that an ingredient found in wine could be helpful for the liver, research shows that it is. But you don't need to drink alcohol to consume resveratrol and enjoy the benefits it offers.
Conditions that affect the liver are among the most common health issues in the Western world. Resveratrol may protect the liver and promote normal liver function.
In one animal study, resveratrol significantly increased the survival rate after liver transplantation. It protects the liver by helping the body regulate oxidative stress, reducing redness and swelling, and alleviating cell death in the liver.
8. Enhances Muscle Recovery & Exercise Performance
If you're hitting the gym and not seeing the improvement you'd like, resveratrol may help.
Resveratrol not only helps your muscles quickly recover, but it can make your workouts more efficient.
Normal exercise causes oxidative stress, and resveratrol's antioxidant status appears to help muscles recover more quickly. This effect works both after the strain of exercise and after lack of use — such as after an injury or hospitalization.
Resveratrol supplementation can also enhance your exercise performance. In one study, resveratrol not only boosted how efficiently rats ran on a treadmill by 21 percent, but it also helped their bodies break down fat and strengthened skeletal muscle.
As we get older, muscle mass and strength decrease. Aging muscles tend to heal and grow more slowly than they do in our youth. Resveratrol appears to improve muscle mass and muscle regeneration in older adults, especially when used alongside exercise.
9. Promotes Attractive Skin
While most resveratrol research focuses on taking it internally, some studies have looked at how applying it to the skin shields your skin from environmental pollutants and harmful UV rays.
Dermatology research has shown that resveratrol has 17 times more antioxidant power than some popular — and expensive — anti-wrinkle creams.
Resveratrol can soothe redness and swelling, as well as improve your skin's complexion because of its resistance to harmful organisms.
If acne is a concern, resveratrol may improve the appearance of your complexion. Applied topically, this compound inhibits the growth of harmful organisms on the skin. It also calms the redness and swelling that acne often causes.
Last but not least, resveratrol boosts collagen production, smooths out fine lines and wrinkles, and improves your skin's appearance.
10. May Soothe Sore Joints
Joint soreness can have a tremendous impact on your life and prevent you from engaging in activities that you enjoy.
Thanks to its powerful antioxidant properties, resveratrol may support sore joints, offering some relief. One study showed that resveratrol significantly helped people with knee discomfort feel better.
In another study, researchers injected resveratrol into the knee joints of laboratory animals with arthritis and found that it may stabilize cartilage.
Other research shows that resveratrol can reduce redness and swelling in joints, and may even protect your joints from further damage.
Sources of Resveratrol
You can find resveratrol in several plant foods, particularly berries, and you can buy it in supplements.
Food & Drink
Resveratrol is abundant in the skin of grapes, which is why we find it in wine — most notably red wine. You will not find the compound in the flesh or seeds of grapes, so while grape seed extract is also a powerful antioxidant, don't look to it to find resveratrol.
Scientists have found resveratrol in several other brightly-colored fruits and berries, such as:
- Cocoa and dark chocolate
- Itadori or Japanese knotweed tea
In some Asian countries, people drink Itadori tea, a traditional herbal supplement believed to ward off heart disease and stroke. This source of resveratrol can cause diarrhea and cramping.
Only 25 percent of resveratrol from dietary sources is bioavailable because it gets metabolized quickly.
Dietary intake from naturally-occurring resveratrol averages 0.3 to 1.5 mg per day if one consumes these foods.
Resveratrol supplements typically contain a much higher concentration of the compound, so more is available to cells. Some of the lower quality, cheaper options contain equal amounts of the trans and cis forms. Be sure to check labels and aim to use supplements that have a higher concentration of trans-resveratrol, preferably 99 to 100 percent. Not only is this form more easily absorbed by the body, but it also offers better results for your health.
Many resveratrol supplements come from Japanese knotweed roots. While plant-derived supplements are often beneficial, this plant's roots contain a substance called emodin, a laxative. While manufacturers try to remove the emodin, even small amounts can cause cramping and diarrhea. The extraction process for these supplements may also introduce harmful solvents, like hexane and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Some companies sell fermented resveratrol, which comes from yeast, and does not contain emodin. However, your best option is Resvida®. As the most potent, purest, and most scientifically researched form of trans-resveratrol, Resvida® contains no emodin and has maximum bioavailability.
Precautions & Side Effects
Resveratrol is generally safe for consumption with no serious adverse effects according to numerous studies, and it is "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. When taken in higher servings, or if you take supplements and extracts derived from Japanese knotweed, rather than Resvida®, some people may experience mild to moderate gastrointestinal effects, including nausea, gas, and diarrhea.
Resveratrol may interact with some medications, so speak with your healthcare provider before considering a resveratrol supplement if you are currently taking medication. If you are pregnant or nursing, do not take resveratrol supplements, as its safety has not been thoroughly tested on pregnant women.
Points to Remember
Many people are looking for antioxidant supplements that soothe irritation and discourage harmful organisms. Resveratrol offers all of these.
Found in the skin of grapes, berries, dark chocolate, and dietary supplements, resveratrol has a number of health benefits. Trans-resveratrol is the most effective form because it easily crosses cell membranes, as well as the blood-brain barrier.
Resveratrol promotes vitality and wellness, encourages longevity, and even helps maintain health for age and lifestyle-related conditions.
This unique nutrient supports brain health, increases endurance, discourages weight gain, and helps balance hormones for both women and men. Not only that, resveratrol also has a positive impact on heart health, protects the liver, alleviates joint pain, and even helps improve your skin's appearance. The best, most-tested resveratrol supplement is Resvida®, the purest, most scientifically researched form of the supplement.
What are your thoughts on resveratrol? Do you take antioxidant supplements? Please let us know your opinions in the comments!
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.