Most health experts say that avoiding alcoholic beverages is the way to go, but there’s one exception that most agree on – the drinking of red wine. What makes red wine stand out as different? It’s the best source of a polyphenol known as resveratrol, a compound that may lead to a healthier heart, a slimmer body, and a longer life.
Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in the skins of dark grapes, but it is much more bioavailable in the body when consumed as red wine. Resveratrol burst onto the natural health scene about a decade ago when a research team from Harvard Medical School found that consuming it shifted the physiology of middle-aged mice on a high-calorie diet toward that of mice on a standard diet, and significantly increased their survival time. Other changes observed included increased insulin sensitivity, improvement in vitality and motor function, and increased energy levels.
These researchers also found that mice consuming resveratrol showed a reduced rate of diabetes, liver conditions, and other disorders normally related to eating a high-calorie diet. Amazingly, at the end of the study, the organs of the high-calorie-fed, resveratrol-treated mice appeared normal! This led to the thought that mammals might be able to have their cake and eat it too.
Since then, thousands of studies have elaborated on the benefits of resveratrol. Some of the findings include:
- Inhibition of breast cancer cells through resveratrol’s ability to function as a phytoestrogen on a level comparable to the popular genistein and daidzein that come from soybeans. Resveratrol does not have the negative effect of being an anti-nutrient as soy does, and it is not genetically engineered as most soy is.
- Improved cellular energy production and aerobic capacity as a result of enhanced action in the mitochondria, the tiny furnace in a cell in which food is burned for energy.
- Protection against neovascularization in the eye, a condition in which tiny blood vessels form and may subsequently burst, causing vision loss or blindness. Although this condition is most often thought of in terms of diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, it can also be a cause of concern to anyone wearing contact lenses on a daily basis. Diminished oxygen from extended wear of contacts can encourage the development of these new vessels.
- Reduction of the free radical damage in the lining of the arteries that can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition also known as hardening of the arteries. This in turn can lead to heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
Resveratrol may improve circulation. Stephen Sinatra, M.D., reports an Australian study of overweight hypertensive men and post-menopausal women that investigated resveratrol’s effect on the brachial artery, the major artery in the upper arm. Impairment of blood flow in this artery has been linked to obesity and hypertension.
Following consumption of a highly active form of resveratrol, study participants demonstrated an increase in blood flow at a rate considered rapid and significant.
According to Dr. Sinatra, resveratrol supports a healthy heart in two ways. It protects the delicate inner layer of the arteries, known as the endothelium, from free radical damage, and it helps to protect the production of nitric oxide, a critical chemical produced in the endothelium that normalizes blood vessel dilation and has other important uses in the body.
Another study published this month indicates that resveratrol may help those with colitis. Rats in which the disease had been induced and treated with resveratrol showed significant improvement compared to rats with the disease that went untreated.
Red Wine or Resveratrol Supplements?
The vivid colors of dark grapes indicate high polyphenol content. White grapes have little in the way of polyphenols, and that is the reason they lack color. More than 200 polyphenols have been detected in red wine, including the powerful quercetin and catechin as well as resveratrol.
When you drink red wine, you are consuming a broad spectrum of healing compounds, many of which are used by the plant as an essential part of its own defense from such things as pests, injury and ultraviolet radiation, as well as viruses, fungi and bacteria.
All this can be yours when you drink red wine. In contrast, when you buy a compound that has been isolated, processed, and put into a bottle, it may sit on a self for months, possibly losing efficacy before being used. Wouldn’t you rather have the pleasant taste and full range of benefits of red wine instead?
Dr. Erik Skovenborg, a founder of the Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board, says that extracted polyphenols are subject to oxidation. He encourages people to use food-sourced compounds in order to obtain full benefit.
When getting resveratrol by drinking red wine, it may be best to limit yourself to one or two glasses a day, preferably with food. This is the way people eating the Mediterranean diet do it, and that diet has repeatedly been associated with reduced mortality from all causes.