One of the most confusing medical mysteries in the world today is what’s known as the French paradox – that is, in a culture that consumes wine, butter, and saturated fats at higher levels than other nations, the overall rate of heart disease is lower than nations who don’t. There’s still no scientifically accepted explanation for this bizarre statistical outlier, but rest assured that there’s a lot of work being done to figure out exactly what’s going on.
One recent hypothesis drew a connection between regular consumption of red wine and lowered risks of heart attacks, and a number of scientists focused on the chemical composition of wine to try to figure out the exact element that bore the positive effect. One likely suspect is the phytoalexin resveratrol, which is now available in over-the-counter supplements. In this article, I will examine the potential health benefits of resveratrol supplements so you can decide if they are right for you.
Resveratrol is a substance produced by a number of plants when they are under attack from bacteria or fungi, including during the fermentation process. In clinical trials of lab-synthesized resveratrol derived from Japanese knotweed, multiple positive effects have been observed, including lowering blood sugar, reducing inflammation and even anti-cancerous properties. However, as of this writing, only one clinical study has been performed on humans, and its results indicated that a significantly larger dose by bodyweight is required to obtain any positive effects. More research still needs to be conducted, obviously, but the general scientific consensus is that the reservatrol stimulates an autoimmune reaction in the test animals that strengthens the body’s overall response to toxins. This immune response has a number of positive effects, including extended lifespan in some test animals.
Unfortunately, the majority of scientific research on resveratrol has been conducted on lower animals – yeast cultures, insects, fish and mice. As everybody knows, successes with these animals do not directly translate to positive effects on human metabolisms. In addition, some negative side effects have been observed, including an increased mortality rate for young animals administered the chemical. However, as with many “flavor of the month” supplements, increased news coverage of the possible health benefits increased sales and production of reservatrol over the last two years. Since production methods have shifted from grape skins and seeds to less expensive knotweed, however, supplements have become less financially burdensome to purchase.
So is reservatrol a cure-all for human use? At this stage in the product’s life, it’s not certain. Oral administration of the supplement via pill is fairly ineffective, with only five percent of the ingested amount making its way into the bloodstream. Absorption of the chemical through wine has approximately the same rate, with the attendant side effects that come from consumption of alcoholic beverages. The other common food that contains it is peanuts, but at only half the amount of grapes, and with a larger fat payload. In addition, some studies seem to indicate that reservatrol can contribute to increased breast cancer rates in women – while others hypothesize that the substance can also fight said cancer. Until a larger database of scientific results exist, take reservatrol at your own risk and consult a physician before making any serious change in your diet.