Resveratrol: miracle or myth?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

April 2010

It's what the Boomer Generation has been waiting for, a pill that slows down the aging process, prevents or cures cancer and lowers cholesterol. Entrepreneurs have discovered this miraculous substance and you can find resveratrol tablets in every vitamin store and on scores of web sites. But in spite of the celebrity endorsements, is it worth your money?

Plants produce resveratrol as a defense against invasion by a common mold, or fungus. Because of its association with wine, grapes get all the credit for this substance but various berries as well as plums and nuts provide some to our diet too. Plants benefit from its antioxidant properties but it contributes even more to animals, especially us.

Besides being a potent antioxidant, resveratrol acts to reduce inflammation, thought to be an important mechanism in heart attack, stroke and numerous other conditions. Additional heart-attack preventive benefits include its ability to make blood less likely to clot and to lower cholesterol. What has really intrigued scientists is its ability to prolong the lifespan of a variety of living things that range from yeasts to worms to frogs, sometimes by 50 percent or more.

Whether or not this translates to humans remains to be seen. We already know that it acts differently in different species. One possible hazard is that its estrogen-like effect may increase the risk of cancer in humans even though it has an anticancer effect in laboratory animals and in isolated cells of several species.

Do you get what you pay for? There is a 1,000-fold difference in the potency of preparations that are being marketed for their anti-aging effects. Prices also vary widely and some companies don't deliver the goods. Some products only contain about one-quarter as much resveratrol as is listed on the label. Any time a "nutrient" is touted for its miraculous properties you can be sure that hype will sometimes obscure the lack of quality.

Red wines from grapes that grow in more humid areas have more resveratrol; white wines have much less. Even red wines vary 20-fold or more in their resveratrol content. Finally, every glass of wine that contains resveratrol also contains thousands of nutrients that work together with it to make the machinery of the cell work smoothly. Studies of single vitamins or other nutrients often come up empty because nature doesn't intend for them to work that way. I'll get my resveratrol from pinot noir, thanks.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.