Resveratrol: More Than Skin Deep
Source: Breakthroughs In Health, Volume 2, Issue 2
Nutrient May Be Key to Longevity and Robust Health
While ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians and Greeks, knew the food they put in their bodies helped determine how they felt and functioned, they probably didn’t understand why. Today, we do.
Modern-day scientific research offers evidence that we can possibly slow down the onset of wrinkles and mental confusion, combat cancer and arthritis, and reduce elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, perhaps even the effects of aging, by eating the right foods that promote health and fight disease. Many of these studies show the antioxidants and other healthy attributes of red grapes may help battle the increasing assault by chronic illnesses.
The Oxygen Connection
To understand how we can limit the damage from chronic illnesses and aging, we need to understand how illnesses develop. Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in our society, and everyone has some degree of heart-vessel disease or weakness. The vessels that bring blood to heart muscles become damaged by fat from our diet, making them inflexible and hard and restricting blood flow. This hardening of the arteries is known as atherosclerosis. Researchers theorize it results from the oxidation of bad cholesterol (LDL-C.)
The cells in our bodies need oxygen for energy and to function. Oxidization occurs when oxygen is converted into energy. When oxygen mixes with other molecules, unstable and highly reactive molecules called free radicals result. The body’s atoms and molecules prefer an even number of electrons, but when oxygen mixes with another molecule, it becomes an unstable free radical with an odd number of electrons.
This process can also be initiated by outside influences, such as smoking, radiation, pollution, hypertension, a high-fat diet and elevated blood sugar levels. Excess amounts of free radicals are also produced during infections or chronic inflammation. Strenuous exercise also increases the production of free radicals.
This creates a domino effect or chain reaction as each cell, in turn, tries to nab electrons. These unstable molecules damage cell membranes, weaken blood vessel walls, alter immune cells, modify protective enzymes, cause scar tissue to form and hinder how cells function. Free radicals can also damage cell proteins and alter DNA within the cell.
It has been estimated that the trillion-plus cells in the human body generate 1 billion to 3 billion free radicals a day per cell. No wonder there is evidence that more than 200 diseases are caused by free radical damage, including blindness, arthritis, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and even physical aging.
There is a solution. Like other densely colored plant foods, red grapes contain a class of phytochemicals (the prefix phyto- is derived from phyton, the Greek word for plant) known as polyphenols. These naturally occurring chemicals act as antioxidants neutralizing free radical damage.
Red grapes contain high levels of resveratrol, a polyphenol produced in the plant’s skin and seed in response to fungi, infection, stress, injury and ultraviolet irradiation. Researchers say resveratrol has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to be responsible for many of red grapes’ health benefits.
There’s More Good News
Resveratrol is different from nearly all antioxidants because it can cross the blood-brain barrier to help protect brain cells. Also, studies point to this powerful polyphenol as a potential cure for heart disease and age-related brain disorders. Research also shows resveratrol inhibits fungal infection, raises HDL, “good” cholesterol, lowers PSA levels in males, raises immunity, controls blood pressure, preserves red blood cells, prevents blood clots and inhibits inflammation. And it doesn’t take much. Scientists found it only takes about 3 to 5 milligrams of resveratrol to produce these results in humans.
But resveratrol has other attributes. For example, it has reduced tumor incidence in animals by affecting one or more stages of cancer development. For one thing, it has been shown to inhibit growth of many types of cancer cells in culture by reducing activation of NF kappa B, a protein produced by the body’s immune system when it is under attack and is involved in cancer cell growth and metastasis.
Resveratrol has also been identified as one of the antioxidant phenolic compounds in grapes many researchers believe is a key component of the “French paradox,” the observation that French people with poor diets who drink red wine manage to have the cardiovascular health of people who live and eat well.
According to new research by scientists from Johns Hopkins University, resveratrol may also minimize brain damage from strokes. In a study completed this year, the researchers fed mice a moderate amount of resveratrol, then induced stroke-like damage in the animals. The animals treated with resveratrol experienced 40 percent less brain damage than untreated mice, the researchers found. The research team, led by Sylvain Dore, Ph.D., associate professor at Johns Hopkins, found that resveratrol increases brain levels of an enzyme that protects nerve cells from damage, heme oxygenase. Dore presented his findings at a recent conference of the Society for Neuroscience in Atlanta.
“What is unique about this study is we have somewhat identified what can be the specific mechanism” in red wine that is responsible for stroke protection, Dore says. “We are building cell resistance against free radical damage.” With cardiovascular disease being the No. 1 killer, Dore’s findings offer hope of extending the lives of many.