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What are the health benefits of resveratrol?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Resveratrol, the chemical found in grape skins (not seeds) is being tried as an alternative method to cause the same anti-aging benefits as calorie restriction. (The calorie restriction theory led to a series of experiments on different animals. Results showed that reducing total calories by 15 to 30 percent of the normal amount extended life by 30 to 150 percent.)

Resveratrol apparently acts on certain cellular elements to cause the same changes calorie restriction causes. Whenever calorie restriction has been applied to groups and species of animals, it has almost always prolonged life span. Calorie restriction without nutrient deficiency is being tried by a few self-selected humans in the United States. Clearly, this is difficult to achieve, as we can't even persuade humans to eat just the right amount of calories, let alone 15 percent less than they would ordinarily eat. Investigation is being aggressively pursued to see if the effect of resveratrol can be produced by medicine or another food substance.
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Researchers believe that resveratrol, a compound found primarily in red wine and grapes, may help prevent a variety of age-related conditions, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and type 2 diabetes. The theory is that resveratrol somehow inhibits the normal aging process that occurs within the cells of our bodies. However, scientists caution that more studies are needed to prove that taking resveratrol in supplement form is safe and effective.
Joel H. Fuhrman, MD
Family Medicine
The phytochemical compound resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes, berries, peanuts appears to suppress inflammation and may fight aging in humans, however long-term clinical trials have not yet been reported in humans documenting its benefits.

Resveratrol is a popular plant extract that can prolong life and reduce the rate of aging in worms, fruit flies, and yeast. In rodent studies it has been shown to have anti-cancer benefits. It has also been shown to have anti-proliferative effects on human cancer cells and in a human controlled trial it was shown to decrease inflammatory markers after a high fat meal. Though this and other studies seem promising about the potential anti-aging benefits of this compound in humans, we don't really know for sure that a concentrated extract of resveratrol as a supplement is likely to be helpful as it appears to be from the data from insect and animal studies. Nevertheless the data collected so far is promising.

Also resveratrol has broad anti-viral effects. Even though these are not high quality, controlled human clinical trials, the rodent studies are nevertheless impressive. Studies show that resveratrol inhibits herpes simplex virus (HSV) types 1 and 2 replication by inhibition of an early step in the virus replication cycle. Studies in mice also show that resveratrol inhibits or reduces HSV replication in the vagina and inhibit varicella-zoster virus, influenza virus, and even enhances the anti-human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 activity of several anti-HIV drugs.

My recommendation here is cautious but hopeful. Since resveratrol and its related compounds have so many potentially beneficial properties and protect and fight cancer from so many angles, from angiogenesis inhibition to preventing tumor initiation by deactivating carcinogens, I think it likely that supplementing with resveratrol is beneficial and it might turn out to be an important adjunct, not just preventatively but also for patients who already are diagnosed with cancer. Eating colorful fruits and berries regularly give us this compound. If a person has immune challenges or is susceptible to infections, consider an additional resveratrol supplement on a regular basis.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.