Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in a number of plants, including grape skins, raspberries, mulberries, pomegranate, and raw cacao, and is known to have a number of beneficial health effects. It belongs to a family of compounds known as polyphenols, which is produced by plants to increase their survival and resistance to disease during times of stress, such as excessive ultraviolet light, infections, and climate changes. When you consume it, you can reap similar protection. Indeed, resveratrol is known to combat damaging free radicals in your body, and health benefits include general life extension, and the prevention of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression.
Resveratrol is found in abundance in red wine. Because it’s highly soluble in alcohol, your body may absorb more of it from red wine than from other sources. Despite that, I do not suggest drinking large amounts of red wine, as alcohol in and of itself is neurotoxic and can damage your brain and other organs. I believe there are far healthier sources for this potent free radical scavenger than wine. Muscadine grapes, for example, have the highest concentration of resveratrol in nature because of their extra thick skins and numerous seeds, in which resveratrol is concentrated.
Resveratrol Has Neuroprotective Effects
Over the years, a number of studies have suggested resveratrol has neuroprotective effects, and may even slow the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. The latter is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s, and accounts for 20 to 30 percent of all cases. This form of dementia is caused by blocked or reduced cerebral blood flow, resulting in your brain cells being chronically deprived of oxygen and vital nutrients. A number of different mechanisms and properties contribute to resveratrol’s neuroprotective influence.
One of the special properties of resveratrol is its ability to cross your blood-brain barrier, which allows it to moderate inflammation in your central nervous system. This is significant because CNS inflammation plays an important role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Resveratrol has also been shown to improve cerebral blood flow, which is part of its protective effects against vascular dementia, as well as stroke. A 2010 study found that even one single dose of resveratrol can improve blood flow to your brain. Previous research has also found resveratrol improves learning and memory in rats with vascular dementia by reducing oxidative stress in their brains.
Another 2010 study found that resveratrol suppresses inflammatory effects in certain brain cells (microglia and astrocytes) by inhibiting different pro-inflammatory cytokines and key signaling molecules. Studies also show that resveratrol may prevent the formation of plaque in your brain that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
Resveratrol Helps Prevent Hallmark Plaques Associated with Alzheimer’s
Research published in 2005 concluded resveratrol exerts “potent anti-amyloidogenic activity.” Most recently, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that resveratrol, taken in highly concentrated doses, appears to stabilize levels of amyloid-beta and prevent further buildup of the protein in the brain, thereby slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In this trial, half of the participants were given up to 1,000 mg of resveratrol concentrate daily — equivalent to the resveratrol contained in about 1,000 bottles of red wine. The other half received a placebo. All had been diagnosed with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease at the onset of the study. At the end of one year, the treatment group showed no change in amyloid-beta levels in their brains, spinal fluid, or blood, which was a good sign. Meanwhile, the placebo group showed signs of typical disease progression, including a decline in amyloid-beta in their blood and spinal fluid. It’s thought that this reduction is due to the protein being removed from other parts of the body and deposited in the brain instead.
As reported by Market Business:
“In patients with Alzheimer’s, amyloid-beta levels decrease in the cerebrospinal fluid, while deposits of the substance increase in the brain, where it becomes insoluble. These insoluble plaques are a hallmark of the disease, which eventually leads to the death of nerve cells in the brain. ‘Somehow, resveratrol is affecting cerebrospinal amyloid levels,’ Dr. R. Scott Turner… told FoxNews.com. ‘We don’t quite fully understand why or how, but [we] think it may be related to sirtuins.’”
Resveratrol Produces Effects Similar to Calorie Restriction
Incidentally, sirtuins are proteins activated by calorie restriction, and are thought to play a role in the regulation of skeletal muscle mitochondrial function.
Studies on animals have shown that long-term calorie restriction effectively helps prevent age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s, so this is an intriguing link. That said, since the chief goal of this latest study was to evaluate the safety of high-dose resveratrol, additional research is required to determine whether, and to what degree, resveratrol might actually prevent mental decline.
The study did note some promising signs of cognitive benefit though. As reported by CNN:
“Even for the relatively small number of participants in the study, the researchers did see indication that resveratrol could improve cognition. Patients in this group had slight improvements in their ability to carry out daily tasks, such as remembering to brush their teeth. And anecdotally, patients who took resveratrol told the researchers that they felt like they were maintaining their mental ability.”
Interestingly, resveratrol appears to produce biological effects similar to those of calorie restriction in another way as well. A study published in the March 2013 issue of Science demonstrates that resveratrol directly flips on a gene that stimulates production of a protein called SIRT1, which prevents disease by recharging your mitochondria (the little powerhouses inside your cells). As it turns out, calorie restriction and resveratrol exert the same effect on this SIRT1 protein.
Other Health Benefits of Resveratrol
Resveratrol is often referred to as “the fountain of youth” due to its wide-ranging health benefits. More than 600 scientific studies have found beneficial effects, covering more than 340 different diseases. In broad strokes, resveratrol has been found to exert the following actions and functions:
Its anti-cancer properties are also well known, but many of resveratrol’s benefits appear to be related to its superior ability to reverse oxidative stress and quench inflammation. It does this by preventing your body from creating two molecules known to trigger inflammation – sphingosine kinase and phospholipase D.
Resveratrol May Be Helpful Against Depression
Inflammation is also thought to be a main player in depression. For example, researchers have found that melancholic depression, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression are all associated with elevated levels of cytokines in combination with decreased cortisol sensitivity (cortisol is both a stress hormone and a buffer against inflammation). As discussed in an article by Dr. Kelly Brogan, depressive symptoms can be viewed as downstream manifestations of inflammation, and recent animal research suggests resveratrol may be useful here as well. Using rats, the researchers showed that a resveratrol dose equivalent to what you’d get from six glasses of red wine effectively prevented depressive behavior in rats by blocking brain inflammation.
As reported by NewHope360:
“Susan K. Wood, Ph.D… leader of the research team, said the group’s findings are exciting because they show that resveratrol has anti-inflammatory potential in the brain, not just on levels of inflammation circulating in the body. ‘Certainly, there is a strong case being built now between clinical and preclinical work that inflammation is linked to depressive symptoms, and there is a great need for these findings to be validated in human studies,’ she said.”
Healthy Sources of Resveratrol
As mentioned earlier, drinking large quantities of red wine is not your best alternative due to the toxic effects of alcohol. If you want to boost your consumption of resveratrol, stick with natural sources like whole grape skins, raspberries, and mulberries. If you struggle with insulin resistance, consider passing on the meat of the grape as it contains a lot of extra fructose while being devoid of resveratrol.
Other whole food sources include raw cocoa and dark chocolate, but it may be difficult to get a therapeutic dose from these foods, especially since these are best eaten in moderation. Another option is to take a resveratrol supplement. In this case be sure to look for one made from a whole food complex that includes muscadine grape skin and seeds, which is where the resveratrol is concentrated.