Resveratrol – why red wine is good for you

There may be more to the old saying “a drink to your health” than just good wishes, at least when it comes to red wine. Red wine gets its colour from the grape skins, which are included in the fermentation process – in white wine they are removed. As grape skin contains an active ingredient belonging to the flavonoid family known as resveratrol, this ingredient is present in red wine. A number of health advantages have been attributed to resveratrol including anti-cancer properties, anti-aging, and cardio-protective. Although resveratrol is also found in low concentrations in mulberries and peanuts, and is produced in insects and animals when under pathogenic attack, grape skins contain the highest concentration by far. So it certainly appears that the French had it right all along!

Resveratrol has been shown to help in the fight against cancer in several ways. Firstly, it interferes with all three stages (initiation, promotion and progression) of cancer growth and formation. Secondly, it stimulates apoptosis, the process of spontaneous cellular death in cancerous cells. Thirdly, it has been shown to possess anti-angiogenic properties, effectively starving the tumour cells of blood, oxygen and nutrients. In addition, these protective effects are enhanced by resveratrol’s ability to increase the activity of quinine reductase, the enzyme that removes carcinogens from the body, and by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase-1, which is known to promote tumour growth. It has also been shown to inhibit certain cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are known to produce carcinogenic metabolites.

Resveratrol possesses anti-aging properties, especially with regard to the brain and neural function. Not only is resveratrol a powerful anti-oxidant that decreases inflammation and oxidation to all tissues in the body, but it also protects against neuronal or brain cell death. It has been shown to decrease the onset and progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Huntington’s disease.

The resveratrol content of red wine has been used to explain the “French paradox” of low levels of coronary heart disease in southern France despite a diet rich in saturated fats. This is likely due its anti-oxidant properties which decrease the “stickiness” of LDL, the bad cholesterol and its ability to adhere to the blood vessel walls, but also due to a direct inhibitory action on arterial fibroblasts, the cells that causing fibrosis and stiffening of blood vessels, high blood pressure and coronary disease.

Resveratrol has a cardio-protective effect. It reduces inflammation within blood vessels, limits the proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells and increases nitrous oxide production, all of which help maintain patent arteries. It also reduces platelet aggregation and clot formation.

Cautions:
The safety of resveratrol supplements during pregnancy and lactation has not been established and alcohol consumption during pregnancy is not recommended.

Due to its potential estrogenic activity, resveratrol supplements should be avoided in women with estrogen-sensitive cancers such as breast, ovarian and uterine.

Due to its anti-platelet aggregation activity resveratrol could potentially increase bleeding in individuals taking pharmaceutical anticoagulants.

Reference:
Parker JA, Arango M, Abderrahmane S, Lambert E, Tourette C, Catoire H, Néri C. Resveratrol rescues mutant polyglutamine cytotoxicity in C. elegans and mammalian neurons. Nature Genetics 2005 ; 4 : 349-50. PMID 15793589
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Olson ER, Naugle JE, Zhang X, Bomser JA, Meszaros JG. Inhibition of cardiac fibroblast proliferation and myofibroblast differentiation by resveratrol. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol 2005 Mar;288(3):H1131-8. PMID 15498824

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Resveratrol ameliorates myocardial damage by inducing vascular endothelial growth factor-angiogenesis and tyrosine kinase receptor Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Milan, Milan, Italy 2007