Well over a decade ago, resveratrol made its introduction into the dietary supplement marketplace. Initially, excitement about resveratrol was based upon the consideration that intake of it and other polyphenol compounds from red wine may contribute to the “French paradox”—the unexpectedly low rate of death from cardiovascular disease in the Mediterranean population despite the relatively higher intake of saturated fats.1 Then, excitement increased with the understanding that resveratrol helped activate the SIRT 1 gene, associated with longevity.2 Since that time, interest in resveratrol has continued to expand due to human research demonstrating its effectiveness for inflammation, immune health/breast cancer prevention, muscle health, cognitive health, weight loss, blood sugar/ insulin resistance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and more. These benefits will be the focus of this article.

Resveratrol Background
Before jumping into a discussion about the fascinating human research, however, let's take a moment to review just what resveratrol is, in case you're unfamiliar with it. Resveratrol is a type of natural phenol by several plants in response to injury or attack by pathogens.3,4 These plants include grapes, peanuts5 and Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).6 Resveratrol helps provide protection to the plants, at least in part, due to its demonstrated antioxidant properties.7 These antioxidant properties benefit humans too, as shown in research where resveratrol provided a direct antioxidant effect against free radicals, and facilitated an increase in vitamin E8—another powerful antioxidant.

There are two primary isomers (i.e. two forms) of resveratrol, trans- and cis-. To be clear, trans-resveratrol has been unequivocally shown to have much greater activity than cis-resveratrol.9 Consequently, when purchasing a resveratrol product, make sure to check the supplement facts panel to verify that the product contains trans-resveratrol. If just"resveratrol" is listed, without the trans-designation, or if cis-resveratrol is listed, you would be better off choosing a different product that lists trans-resveratrol. In any case, for ease of reading, I will drop references to trans- in the rest of this article, although it can be assumed that any mention of resveratrol will actually refer to trans-resveratrol.

Cardiovascular Health
As its first claim to fame, resveratrol has been found to have activity that may have protective effects on the cardiovascular system. In both test-tube and animal research, resveratrol has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation (i.e. the clumping together of blood platelets). This has value since excessive or inappropriate aggregation of platelets can lead to formation of blood clots and subsequent blockages in blood vessels that result in insufficient blood flow, heart attack or stroke.10 Resveratrol can also promote vasodilation (a relaxed and expanded state of the artery that accommodates increased blood flow) by enhancing the production of a naturally occurring substance in the body called nitric oxide.11

More importantly, human clinical research12 has demonstrated that 100 mg/day of resveratrol significantly reduced arterial stiffness (a major indicator of atherosclerosis) compared to placebo, and also lowered systolic blood pressure by 5.5 points in patients with type 2 diabetes. Another human study,13 which used a much higher dose (2.3 g) in older adults, found that resveratrol not only improved vascular function more than placebo, but also increased the number of mitochondria.those parts of the cells that help to generate energy for our body! Another interesting cardiovascular benefit is resveratrol's effect on Apolipoprotein B (ApoB), a primary component of many lipoproteins such as LDL (the gbad cholesterolh) that are involved in atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. In human clinical research14 on overweight or obese individuals with mild hypertriglyceridemia, 1000 mg/day of resveratrol for one week followed by 2000 mg/day for two weeks reduced ApoB production rate by an impressive 22 percent. In addition, flowmediated dilatation (a measure of arterial circulation and endothelial function) was increased in human studies15,16,17 where 10 mg to 270 mg/day of resveratrol was given. In one of the studies,18 LDL cholesterol levels were also significantly decreased.

In addition to showing anti-inflammatory effects in in-vitro and animal studies, resveratrol has also been shown to comprehensively suppress oxidative and inflammatory stress with as little as 40 mg/day in normal human subjects.19 This included the reduction of inflammatory markers such as TNF-alpha, IL-6, and C-reactive protein, with no changes in the placebo group. Similarly, in postmenopausal women with osteoarthritis pain, 75 mg of resveratrol twice daily significantly reduced pain and improved total well-being.20

Ulcerative colitis (UC), a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, has also responded to treatment with resveratrol. In one study21 with 56 UC patients, those receiving 500 mg/day of resveratrol had significant symptom improvement, reduced malondialdehyde (a highly reactive oxidative stress compound), and increased superoxide dismutase (SOD), and total antioxidant capacity. In another human study22 with 50 UC patients, 500 mg/day of resveratrol also reduced the activity of inflammatory compounds, including TNF-α, hs-CRP, and activity of NF-κB. Furthermore, in a study23 of firefighters, supplementation with 100 mg/day resveratrol for 90 days, plasma biomarkers of inflammation were reduced after a physical fitness test, including IL-6 and TNF-α. This adds further credence to resveratrol's anti-inflammatory effects.

Immune Health/Breast Cancer Prevention
resveratrol's effect on immune health can be as fundamental as increasing certain circulating immune cells, or as profound at reducing the risk of breast cancer. For example, human research24 was conducted to assess the effects of repeated doses of resveratrol (1000 mg/day for 28 days) on circulating immune cells in healthy individuals. The results were that resveratrol was safe and well tolerated and was associated with significant increases in the numbers of circulating gamma delta T cells (functioning as a first line of defense and a bridge between innate and adaptive responses) and regulatory T cells—demonstrating that resveratrol has clear biological effects on human circulating immune cells.

With regard to breast cancer prevention, resveratrol may help in a couple of ways. First, resveratrol has been shown to have a dose-dependent effect on reducing the formation of mammary tumors in-vitro as a result of down-regulating DNA methyltransferases. To see if it had a similar effect in humans, a study25 was conducted in which 39 adult women at increased breast cancer risk received a placebo, 5 or 50 mg of resveratrol twice daily for 12 weeks. Results were that there was indeed decrease in methylation of the tumor suppressor gene with increasing levels of resveratrol (P = .047).

In another study26 of 34 overweight, postmenopausal women (BMI ≥ 25 kg/m2), the clinical effect of resveratrol on systemic sex steroid hormones were investigated, since high estrogen levels may contribute to breast cancer. The subjects received 1 g of resveratrol daily for 12 weeks. The results were that resveratrol supplementation led to an average of 73 percent increase in urinary 2-hydroxyestrone (the "good estrogen") levels leading to a favorable change in estrogen ratios that are less conducive to the development of breast cancer. This research demonstrated that among overweight and obese postmenopausal women, a daily 1 g dose of resveratrol has favorable effects on estrogen metabolism.

Muscle Health
In a 12-week study,27 older men and women (aged 65.80 years) exercised and took either a placebo or 500 mg/day of resveratrol to determine if resveratrol would have additive effects to those of exercise. Results showed that exercise added to resveratrol treatment increased the number of mitochondria, and improved muscle fatigue resistance more than placebo and exercise treatments. In addition, subjects treated with resveratrol had an increase in muscular torque and power after training, whereas exercise did not increase these parameters in the placebo-treated older subjects. Furthermore, exercise combined with resveratrol significantly improved muscle fiber. Together, these data suggest that resveratrol combined with exercise might provide a better approach for reversing sarcopenia than exercise alone.

Cognitive Health
Research suggests that resveratrol may have cognitive health benefits in people with and without dementia. For example, the ongoing dysfunction of small blood vessels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) may impair the ability of cerebral vessels to supply blood to various brain regions, thereby increasing risks of dementia. To determine if resveratrol could benefit cerebral circulation, a study28 was conducted in which 36 dementia-free, non-insulin dependent T2DM older adults (49–78 years old) consumed single doses of resveratrol (0, 75, 150, and 300 mg) at weekly intervals. Results were that 75–300 mg of resveratrol enhanced vasodilator responsiveness in cerebral vessels.

In another study,29 80 post-menopausal women aged 45–85 years received resveratrol or placebo for 14 weeks to examine the effect on cognitive performance and other parameters. Results were that compared to placebo, significant improvements were observed in the performance of cognitive tasks in the domain of verbal memory (p = 0.041) and in overall cognitive performance (p = 0.020). Mood also tended to improve in multiple measures. These results indicate that regular consumption of a modest dose of resveratrol can enhance both cerebrovascular function and cognition in post-menopausal women, potentially reducing their heightened risk of accelerated cognitive decline and offering a promising therapeutic treatment for menopauserelated cognitive decline.

To test30 whether supplementation of resveratrol (200 mg/ day for 26 weeks) would enhance memory performance in older adults, 23 healthy overweight older individuals were pairwise matched to 23 participants that received placebo (total n = 46, 18 females, 50–75 years). Results showed a significant effect of resveratrol on retention of words over 30 min compared with placebo (p = 0.038), significant increases in hippocampal functional connectivity, decreases in glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) and body fat, and increases in leptin compared with placebo (all p < 0.05). This study provides initial evidence that supplementary resveratrol improves memory performance in association with improved glucose metabolism in older adults, providing a basis for helping to maintain brain health during aging.

To determine the effects of oral resveratrol on localized cerebral blood flow, a study31 was conducted with which 22 healthy human adults received placebo and two doses (250 and 500 mg) of resveratrol in counterbalanced order on separate days. After a 45-min resting absorption period, the participants performed a selection of cognitive tasks. Resveratrol administration resulted in dose-dependent increases in cerebral blood flow during task performance, and enhanced oxygen extraction. These results showed that single doses of orally administered resveratrol can modulate cerebral blood flow variables.

Finally, a clinical study32 was conducted to determine if up to 1 g of resveratrol twice daily could benefit Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients. The results demonstrated that resveratrol decreased CSF MMP9 (a biomarker for confirmed AD), modulates neuro-inflammation, and induces adaptive immunity— suggesting that resveratrol may be a viable target for treatment or prevention of neurodegenerative disorders.

Weight Loss
One of the reasons that resveratrol has received widespread interest is because of its ability to mimic effects of calorie restriction. To gain more insight into this effect on adipose tissue, a study33 was conducted in which healthy obese subjects were supplemented with 150 mg/day of resveratrol or placebo for 30 days. Results showed that resveratrol significantly decreased the size of adipocytes (fat cells), with a shift toward reducing the proportion of large and very-large adipocytes and an increase in small adipocytes. Furthermore, lysosomal/phagosomal pathway and transcription factor EB were up-regulated reflecting an alternative pathway of lipid breakdown by autophagy.

Similarly,34 T2DM patients received 3 g resveratrol or placebo daily for 12 weeks. Results were that there was a significant increase in both SIRT1 expression and resting metabolic rate compared with the placebo group. In patients with T2DM, treatment with resveratrol helped regulate energy expenditure, suggesting that resveratrol may have beneficial exercise-mimetic effects.

Again,35 healthy, obese subjects were treated with placebo and 150 mg/day resveratrol for 30 days. The results were that resveratrol increased SIRT1 and improved the muscle's use of fatty acids as an energy fuel, demonstrating that 30 days of resveratrol supplementation induces metabolic changes in obese humans, mimicking the effects of calorie restriction. Given these results, one might think that resveratrol may aid in weight loss—and indeed this has been shown to be the case in clinical research.

Orlistat is an over-the-counter drug (also known as Alli®) designed to treat obesity by reducing the absorption of fats from the human diet. A study36 was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of combining orlistat with resveratrol in 84 obese subjects over a 6-month period. The subjects consumed a diet with 500 fewer calories than their usual diet for two weeks, and were randomly assigned to four groups, placebo, resveratrol, orlistat, or the O-R combination, and they consumed the energyreduced diet for 6-months. Results were significant weight loss of 15 lbs in the O-R group compared with 7.7 lbs in the placebo group. Significant decreases in BMI, waist circumference, fat mass, triglycerides, leptin, and leptin/adiponectin ratio were observed with the O-R combination, indicating that it was the most effective weight loss treatment.

In another study,37 24 patients with metabolic syndrome received resveratrol (500 mg) three times per day before meals for 90 days. Resveratrol administration resulted in significant differences in total weight (P=0.007), body mass index (BMI) (P=0.006), fat mass (P=0.001), and waist circumference (P=0.004). In conclusion, administration of resveratrol significantly decreased weight, BMI, and fat mass.

Blood Sugar/Insulin Resistance
A study38 was conducted using 480 mg/day of resveratrol or placebo for four weeks on 43 patients with diabetes who also had chronic periodontitis (i.e. gum disease). Results were that serum levels of fasting insulin and insulin resistance were significantly lower in the resveratrol group compared with control group. With regard to periodontal disease, there was also a significant difference in the gum pocket depth between intervention and control groups with resveratrol. The researchers recommended that resveratrol supplementation might be beneficial as adjuvant therapy along with non-surgical periodontal treatment in insulin resistance and improving periodontal status among patients with diabetes with periodontal disease.

Another human clinical trial39 was conducted in 32 over-weight, older adults (average age: 73 years). Participants received placebo, 300 mg/day of resveratrol, or 1000 mg/day of resveratrol for 90 days. Results were that, compared to placebo, glucose levels were significantly lower at after treatment among participants receiving either dose of resveratrol (P<0.05), and were well tolerated.

In this study,40 62 patients with T2DM received either an oral hypoglycemic medication, or an oral hypoglycemic medication along with 250 mg/day of resveratrol. Results were that supplementation with resveratrol for three months significantly improved the mean hemoglobin A1c (P<0.05), a measure of long-term glucose control, systolic blood pressure (P<0.05), total cholesterol (P<0.05), and total protein (P<0.05) in T2DM. The researchers concluded that oral supplementation with resveratrol was effective in improving glycemic control and may be a potential adjuvant for the treatment and management of diabetes.

In a pilot study,41 subjects with impaired glucose tolerance (aged 72 ± 3 years) received 1, 1.5, or 2 g/day of resveratrol for four weeks. After four weeks of resveratrol supplementation, results showed that post-meal (P=0.003) and 3-hour glucose levels (P=0.001) declined. Researchers concluded that, at doses between 1 and 2 g/day, resveratrol improves insulin sensitivity and post-meal plasma glucose in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. Likewise, in a 4-week study,42 T2DM patients received 10 mg/day resveratrol or a placebo. Results showed that, after the fourth week, resveratrol significantly improved insulin sensitivity, which might be due to a resveratrol-induced decrease in oxidative stress that leads to a more efficient insulin-signaling pathway.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) refers to the accumulation of fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. Unfortunately, NAFLD is common—with easily one-third of all American adults being affected43—and often causes no signs and symptoms, and sometimes no complications. In more serious cases, however, the fat that accumulates in NAFLD can cause liver inflammation and scarring.44 In addition, NAFLD is usually associated with insulin resistance, central obesity, reduced glucose tolerance, T2DM and high triglyceride levels.

In a clinical study,45 50 NAFLD patients received either a 500 mg/day of resveratrol or a placebo for 12 weeks. Both groups were advised to follow an energy-balanced diet and physical activity recommendations. Results were that resveratrol supplementation reduced alanine aminotransferase (a marker for NAFLD) and hepatic steatosis (fatty liver) significantly more than placebo (P<0E05).

In another study,46 60 NAFLD patients received two 150 mg resveratrol capsules twice daily for three months. Results were that, compared with the placebo group, resveratrol significantly decreased aspartate aminotransferase, glucose and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (P.0.001) alanine aminotransferase, total cholesterol (P=0.002), and insulin resistance (P=0.016). The researchers concluded that resveratrol supplementation might benefit patients with NAFLD.

Other Resveratrol Benefits
In addition to the aforementioned applications for resveratrol, there are additional benefits for this nutraceutical as well. Two such benefits are related to bone health, and for those who are smokers.

In a clinical study,47 66 middle-aged, obese subjects with metabolic syndrome (average age: 49.3 } 6.3 years) received oral treatment with 1,000 mg or 150 mg of resveratrol, or a placebo daily for 16 weeks to assess changes in the bone turnover marker bone alkaline phosphatase (BAP), and bone mineral density (BMD). Results were that BAP increased dose dependently with resveratrol (P<0.001), compared with placebo. Lumbar spine trabecular volumetric bone mineral density also increased dose dependently with resveratrol (P=0.036), with a significant increase of 2.6 percent in the 1,000 mg resveratrol group compared with placebo (P=0.043). In addition, changes in BAP and bone mineral density were positively correlated (P=0.027).

Smokers typically experience a state of low-grade systemic inflammation and oxidant-antioxidant imbalance. To determine whether resveratrol has beneficial effects on markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, a study48 was conducted with 50 healthy adult smokers who alternatively were given 500 mg/ day of resveratrol and placebo. Results were that resveratrol significantly reduced the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP), triglyceride concentrations, and increased Total Antioxidant Status (TAS) values. The researchers concluded that, because resveratrol has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and hypotriglyceridemic effects, its supplementation might beneficially affect the increased cardiovascular risk of healthy smokers.

Improving The Bioavailability And Efficacy Of Resveratrol

Now that we've reviewed some of the many benefits associated with resveratrol supplementation, let's briefly consider ways to improve the bioavailability and efficacy of this valuable nutraceutical. First, take resveratrol on an empty stomach. The reason for this recommendation is a study showing that the absorption rate of resveratrol following an oral 400 mg singledose was significantly delayed by the presence of food.49

Second, resveratrol may work better when taken together with pterostilbene (a related antioxidant) and quercetin (a flavonoid). In this study,50 the antioxidant activities of resveratrol, pterostilbene and quercetin, and the effect of their combination were investigated in human blood cells in-vitro. When used together, the combination protected the blood cells against destruction and against depletion of the important antioxidant, glutathione. Also, the combination of resveratrol with quercetin or pterostilbene synergistically inhibited oxidative injury of membrane lipids. These protective effects may partially explain the health benefit of these bioactive microcomponents when together in the diet.

The value of supplementation with resveratrol has moved beyond the "French paradox" and the activation of the SIRT 1 gene, associated with longevity. Human clinical research has demonstrated efficacy of resveratrol for inflammation, immune health/breast cancer prevention, muscle health, cognitive health, weight loss, blood sugar/insulin resistance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and more.

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Gene Bruno, MS, MHS

Gene Bruno is the Dean of Academics and Professor of Dietary Supplement Science for Huntington College of Health Sciences (a nationally accredited distance learning college offering diplomas and degrees in nutrition and other health science related subjects. Gene has two undergraduate Diplomas in Nutrition, a Bachelor’s in Nutrition, a Master’s in Nutrition, a Graduate Diploma in Herbal Medicine, and a Master’s in Herbal Medicine. As a 32 year veteran of the Dietary Supplement industry, Gene has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines, and peer-reviewed publications. Gene's latest book, A Guide to Complimentary Treatments for Diabetes, is available on Amazon.com, and other fine retailers.

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