Resveratrol. Elixir of youth?

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Resveratrol  is an antioxidant found in grape skins and it turns on the gene in us responsible for lengthening life.  Resveratrol also has a long list of other good effects on the body of not only anti-aging, anti-cancer but it also improves sports performance and helps weightloss.  Truly, it is a wonderful thing.

The Chinese and Japanese have known about resveratrol for donkey’s years.  They have used it as a circulatory tonic, in other words for heart conditions.  In India, ayurvedic medicine also uses it as a cardiotonic.  In all 3 countries, the tonics are made from Japanese Knotweed.  Here in the West, we are rather slower and excitement about resveratrol began in about the 1990s, as far as I can tell.  Initially, resveratrol was found in red wine.  It is produced by grapevine in the vines, roots, seeds and stalks and the highest concentration is in the skins.   It is part of the polyphenol group of anti-oxidants.  Now, in red wine, as the above video attests, there isn’t a huge amount of resveratrol, so for the good effects, it is necessary to drink about 1,000 bottles of wine a day.   Rather more than current health recommendations.  So in order to get sufficient resveratrol for the mind boggling number of good things it does to us, it has to be taken in supplement form – and, guess what?  The supplements are usually made from Japanese Knotweed.  More about supplementation at the end.

There has been heaps of research done on resveratrol, mainly on rodents, and Dr Sinclair is not alone in being very enthusiastic about the results.  As the orientals already knew, resveratrol has an excellent cardioprotective effect. Amongst other things, it inhibits oxidation of LDL cholesterol – it is the oxidation of LDL cholesterol that causes many problems, not the LDL per se.  It increases Nitric oxide synthesis – nitric oxide thins the blood, as the linked beetroot blog went into – and protects the various linings in the body; the blood vessels (arteries and veins), the stomach lining and also the lungs1 and the brain.

So by this method, resveratrol is neuroprotective, with a strong suspicion that it will help Alzheimer’s and Huntingdon’s diseases. 2  Another method resveratrol helps these diseases is by  switching on the SIRT1 gene, as the linked study demonstrated.  The SIRT1 gene is also referred to in the above video.  So what is this SIRT1 gene?

This gene was discovered when scientists were studying the effects of long term calorie restriction.  Again in Japan, the culture is to eat until only 80% full, so those following this are always a little hungry; Okinawa is the cited Japanese island to demonstrate the health benefits of this culture. And this behaviour has been found to increase longevity by the activation of the gene known as SIRT1.  Here in the West, it is highly unlikely that people will willingly eat less than they want to for the rest of their lives, so hence the joy at realising that resveratrol means we can continue to eat until we are reasonably full, yet enjoy the benefits of long term calorie restriction.  One of the benefits of not eating much is we get more insulin sensitive and resistant to obesity as a result of this SIRT1 gene.  And so it was found that the mice were “resistant to diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance”.

Other benefits from the SIRT1 gene found:

  • Increase in oxidative type muscle fibres; these are the muscle fibres needed for running marathons, for example.
  • Enhanced resistance to muscle fatigue
  • Increased tolerance to cold
  • Improvement in motor function – so better co-ordination and improvement in Alzheimer’s and Huntingdon’s diseases
  • Phyto oestrogenic activity
  • Improved mitochondrial function (this covers the exercise benefits and heart benefits)
  • Protection against metabolic diseases (this is diabetes and syndrome X)
  • The study also pointed out that a concurrent study (Baur et al 2006) found that resveratrol extended the life span of mice.

Phyto oestrogenic activity.  Phyto oestrogens are naturally occurring oestrogens in plants, with Soy being perhaps the best known.  Resveratrol has a different activity to other phyto oestrogens and is a bit under dispute.3 But it seems it suppresses the cancer forming oestrogen, oestradiol. 4  It also balances oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone in the body in both men and women.  Resveratrol also has other good effects on cancer5 mainly by sensitising cells to undergo apoptosis and this means cell death.  A cancerous cell is a cell that should have died, so making it sensitive to death is a good thing here.  The footnoted research was done on lung cancer cells.

Footnote 1 referred to more research on lung cancer and resveratrol.  In this, resveratrol was found to have a beneficial effect upon histones.  Here things get so complex that a long lie down in a darkened room is called for.  If you want to know more about histones, then click on the link.  Suffice it to say that DNA winds itself around histones and things go awry when it winds itself too much or too little – these can be cancer forming events.  So resveratrol helps keep things under control.

So all in all, resveratrol is a excellent thing.  As already stated, resveratrol in supplement form is usually made from Japanese Knotweed.  There are 2 types of resveratrol, the trans- and the cis- type.  As with all supplements, not all are made equal, and the human body prefers the trans-resveratrol type.  For best uptake and effect, trans-resveratrol works best if taken in a supplement also containing quercitin and calcium magnesium phytate, with the optimum daily dosage of 250mg.  It benefits both men and women of all ages.  Of course, the other alternative to get the SIRT1 effect is to just not eat very much.  For the rest of your life.  That would soon make the Heart Attack Grill go out of business, anyway.


  1. Donnelly LE et al.  Anti-inflammatory effects of resveratrol in lung epithelial cells: molecular mechanisms.  AJP-lung physiol.  October 2004 col 287 No 4.  L774-L783 []
  2. Lagouge et al.  Resveratrol improves mitochondrial function and protects against metabolic disease by activating SIRT1 and PGC-1α, Clee (2006); doi 10.1016/j.cell.2006.11.013 []
  3. Bowers et al.  Resveratrol acts as a mixed agonist/antagonist for estrogen receptors α and β.  Endocrinology. 2000; 141:3657-3667 []
  4. There are 3 different types of oestrogen, E2, oestriol, E4, oestrone and E16, oestradiol; these are otherwise known as the good, the bad and the ugly.  It is the latter, the E16 that is carcinogenic. []
  5. Yeung F et al.  Modulation of NF-kB-dependant transcription  and cell survival by the SIRT1 deacetylase.  EMBO J. 2004 June 16; 23(12)-2369-2380 []

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