Have you heard that a glass of wine can actually be healthy for you? Every wonder why? Wine is high in a nutrient called resveratrol. Resveratrol is produced by plants to help protect them from microbial attacks and environmental stresses and is found in the skins of grapes as well as mulberries, cranberries, blueberries, and peanuts (see figure 1)10. Interestingly enough, it is also high in Polygonacea which has been used by traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine to treat atherosclerosis and other inflammatory diseases1.
Resveratrol has been shown to have a significant impact on the cardiovascular system. One study took red wine and put coronary arteries in it. These arteries vasodilated (meaning they got larger). This is intriguing because it demonstrated that something in the red wine (we now know it is resveratrol) was capable of directly affecting the arteries in the heart leading to an improvement in blood flow to and from the heart2. Other studies have confirmed that resveratrol can have short-term and long-term benefit on the heart system by causing the carotid artery to relax. Interestly enough, one study on mice with permanent left anterior descending coronary artery occlusion (which should cause a heart attack) were stabilized with oral treatment of resveratrol. Even more intriguing, the long-term oral treatment normalized the expected negative side effects including decreased inflammatory markers and normalized cholesterol levels7. Another study on diabetic rats also found a 3-month supplementation of resveratrol improved cardiovascular function and decreased cardiovascular risk factors8. Even in studies where an event has occurred (heart attack or stroke-like event where blood is restricted from vital organs), rats with dietary intake of resveratrol had improved recovery of blood flow and better contraction function compared with those that did not have it in their diet9. The research appears to show long term benefit from the regular consumption of resveratrol rich foods in preventing or healing from a heart related event.
The consumption of resveratrol also decreased age-related deterioration of the endothelial (the part of the heart that is responsible for the creation of substances that cause vascular relaxation and contraction)3,4. Aging and obesity both increase the production of inflammatory markers, and resveratrol’s anti-inflammatory properties attenuated these. This study also found that consumption of resveratrol actually suppressed genes that were responsible for increasing inflammation3. Our bodies naturally produce free radicals as part of several life-sustaining biochemical pathways. However, when we get too many free radicals (from eating poor foods with damaged fats, too much alcohol, pollution, smoking, or use of pesticides) our bodies can become overwhelmed and we can start to get oxidative damage. Left unchecked, this can damage all parts of the body. Antioxidants help to catch these excessive free radicals and keep this damage in check (see figure 2). Resveratrol is a strong antioxidant. It has been shown to decrease nicotinamide adeninedinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) which is a major source of free radicals in the vasculature5. It also helps to reduce oxidation of LDL and decrease cell death1. Resveratrol increases glutathione peroxidase 1 (GPx1) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) genes which are major enzymes that help to breakdown free radicals that can cause damage to the body.6
Keep in mind, there are a lot of other components in resveratrol-rich foods.
These components can increase antioxidant capacity and can work in conjunction with resveratrol for heath healthy effects. I usually like to recommend a food first approach when trying to boost your healthy nutrients.
Besides drinking wine, what are some of your favorite ways to get resveratrol in your diet? Let me know in the comments!