Specific Health Applications of Resveratrol
While resveratrol’s impact on cardiovascular disease has undergone the most scrutiny to date, researchers are also exploring its effects on a broad array of diseases, including cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.16,17
One of resveratrol’s most studied applications involves the prevention of cardiovascular disease. “The cardioprotective effects of resveratrol have been studied for years, based largely on the association of wine consumption with reduced risk of coronary heart disease,” notes Dr. Zhao-Wilson.
This plant-derived compound appears to act through several mechanisms to protect the cardiovascular system. Resveratrol may inhibit platelets from clumping together, thus reducing the risk of deadly blood clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke.18-21 Furthermore, resveratrol helps improve blood flow by exerting beneficial effects on the linings of small blood vessels, known as the endothelium. This is a critical finding, since endothelial dysfunction is believed to underlie the progression of atherosclerosis.22-24
In addition to its cardioprotective effects,25-27 resveratrol exhibits a range of anti-cancer properties.28 In laboratory cell studies, resveratrol has been found to inhibit the growth of numerous types of cancer, including leukemias, multiple myeloma, melanoma, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate, stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, thyroid, uterine cervix, and head and neck.29,30
Resveratrol suppresses tumor growth by increasing or decreasing the production of various enzymes and molecules that regulate cellular reproduction and blood supply to the tumor.30,31 Through these mechanisms, resveratrol may enhance the anti-cancer effects of chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation.29 With its potent antioxidant capabilities,32,33 resveratrol may even protect healthy tissues from damage induced by chemotherapy. Since chemotherapy harms both healthy and cancerous tissues, this finding may have important applications in helping cancer patients tolerate its effects.34
Clinical trials in humans have shown that resveratrol has an excellent safety profile, and structural modifications of resveratrol with improved bioavailability are being studied as potential anti-cancer treatments.29
“Resveratrol is currently the subject of National Institutes of Health-sponsored clinical studies to evaluate its chemoprevention (cancer-preventive) effects,” according to Dr. Zhao-Wilson. An ongoing clinical trial at the University of California is studying resveratrol in patients with colon cancer.
Inflammation and Arthritis
A common culprit in heart disease, cancer, and arthritis is chronic inflammation, mediated by naturally produced compounds in the body known as prostaglandins and cytokines. By blocking the activity of such inflammatory compounds, resveratrol may have therapeutic applications for all of these conditions.35,36
In a recently published study, scientists reported that resveratrol shows promise as a potential therapy for arthritis. When administered to animals with experimentally induced inflammatory arthritis, resveratrol protected cartilage against inflammatory changes related to the disease.37
Resveratrol shows promise in protecting the brain and nervous system against disorders associated with aging and genetic factors. In laboratory studies, resveratrol’s antioxidant effect has been shown to protect against nerve cell damage caused by beta-amyloid peptide, which accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.38-40 This has led several research teams to propose that resveratrol may be a useful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.41-43
According to a recent report, resveratrol demonstrated a protective effect against Huntington’s disease in animal models.44 Huntington’s is a genetic disease associated with impaired motor skills and reduced mental abilities.
Additionally, grape seed extract appears to protect rat brain cells and maintain the overall viability of the nervous system. Grape seed exerts these effects by modulating proteins implicated in cognitive disorders.24
Resveratrol may offer benefits in preventing or managing conditions associated with high blood sugar, such as metabolic syndrome or diabetes. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a company founded by Dr. David Sinclair, leader of the Harvard resveratrol study, is conducting a clinical trial to evaluate resveratrol’s effects in controlling blood sugar in patients with diabetes.