Resveratrol: Could this simple supplement really slow down the aging process?

The Basics

A few years ago 60 Minutes, ran a news story on the health benefits of a little known chemical known as resveratrol.  The piece claimed that, among other things, resveratrol could slow down the ageing process and reduce a person’s chances of contracting degenerative diseases.  However, since the piece broke the supplement has lost much of the interest it originally generated.  What is the actual evidence for resveratrol?  And can it really help us stay younger, or is this just another health fad?

Resveratol (whose technical name is 3,5,4′-trihydroxystilbene), is a naturally occurring substance found in large amounts in Japansese knotweed, peanuts, chocolate and the skin of red grapes, it exists in two forms, a cis and a trans (the trans form is the most active). However, the amount of resveratrol found in red wine may not be significant enough, so you might want to supplement as well.

Health claims attributed to resveratrol include, the prevention of certain types of cancer, multiple anti-inflammatory properties, cardiovascular and blood sugar lowering effects, as well as anti-viral effects when taken in large doses.

One of the main reasons why the supplement holds so much promise is because resveratrol seems to offer the same benefits as a calorie-restricted diet.  When Rhesus monkeys at the University of Wisconsin, were placed on a calorie-restricted diet, the ageing process was slowed down.  In plainer words, the less we eat the slower we age.  This is because food, like burning fuel, produces a bi-product called “free radicals.”  Free radicals are charged products that damage cells—leading degenerative diseases.  The ill effects of free radicals on the body can be reduced by including resveratrol as a supplement.

Research using mice suggests it may even prolong life span—this was true even in mice fed terrible diets and suffering from obesity.

While health experts may not agree, the standard dosage appears to be 100 mg to 500 mg, but I have seen people go as high as 3-5gm.

When buying any vitamin, make sure it is from a reputable source.  Currently there is a wide variety of resveratrol on the market.  Look for a product that tells you how much resveratrol is actually in each serving. Make sure you are getting the form trans-resveratrol (which is the most active form).  Just because a bottle has 250mg of resveratrol-rich Japanese knotweed, for example, does not mean you are getting 250mg of active trans-resveratrol in each serving.  So check your labels carefully.

If you choose to supplement some of your resveratrol by drinking wine, note that grapes of the Pinot Noir and St. Laurent varieties have been shown to have the highest level of trans-resveratrol.  You may also think about including peanuts in your diet (peanuts have about half the amount of resveratrol as red wine), as well as blueberries and dark chocolate.

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