If you’ve heard that red wine can help lower cholesterol, chances are you’ve heard of resveratrol — the much-hyped plant compound found in red wine.
But beyond being a healthful part of red wine and other foods, resveratrol has health-boosting potential in its own right.
In fact, resveratrol supplements have been linked to many exciting health benefits, including protecting brain function and lowering blood pressure.
This article explains what you need to know about resveratrol, including seven of its main potential health benefits.
What Is Resveratrol?
Resveratrol is a plant compound that acts like an antioxidant. The top food sources include red wine, grapes, some berries and peanuts.
This compound tends to be concentrated mostly in the skins and seeds of grapes and berries. These parts of the grape are included in the fermentation of red wine, hence its particularly high concentration of resveratrol.
However, much of the research on resveratrol has been done in animals and test tubes using high amounts of the compound.
Of the limited research in humans, most has focused on supplemental forms of the compound, in concentrations higher than those you could get through food.
1. Resveratrol Supplements May Help Lower Blood Pressure
Because of its antioxidant properties, resveratrol could be a promising supplement for lowering blood pressure..
A 2015 review concluded that high doses may help reduce the pressure exerted on artery walls when the heart beats.
That type of pressure is called systolic blood pressure, and appears as the upper number in blood pressure readings.
Systolic blood pressure typically goes up with age, as arteries stiffen. When high, it’s a risk factor for heart disease.
Resveratrol may accomplish this blood-pressure-lowering effect by helping to produce more nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to relax.
However, the authors of that study say more research is needed before specific recommendations can be made about the best dose of resveratrol to maximize blood pressure benefits.
2. It Has a Positive Effect on Blood Fats
Several studies in animals have suggested that resveratrol supplements may change blood fats in a healthy way .
A 2016 study fed mice a high-protein, high-polyunsaturated fat diet and also gave them resveratrol supplements.
Researchers found the average total cholesterol levels and body weight of the mice decreased, and their levels of “good” HDL cholesterol increased.
Resveratrol seems to influence cholesterol levels by reducing the effect of an enzyme that controls cholesterol production.
As an antioxidant, it also may decrease the oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol. LDL oxidation contributes to plaque buildup in artery walls.
In one study, participants were given grape extract that had been boosted with extra resveratrol.
After six months of treatment, their LDL had gone down by 4.5% and their oxidized LDL had gone down by 20% compared to participants who took an unenriched grape extract or a placebo .
3. It Lengthens Lifespan in Certain Animals
The compound’s ability to extend lifespan in different organisms has become a major area of research.
There’s evidence that resveratrol activates certain genes that ward off the diseases of aging .
It works to achieve this in the same way as calorie restriction, which has shown promise in lengthening lifespans by changing how genes express themselves .
However, it’s not clear if the compound would have a similar effect in humans.
A review of studies exploring this connection found that resveratrol increased lifespan in 60% of the organisms studied, but the effect was strongest in organisms that were less related to humans, such as worms and fish .
4. It Protects the Brain
Several studies have suggested that drinking red wine can help slow down age-related cognitive decline.
This may partly be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of resveratrol.
It seems to interfere with protein fragments called beta-amyloids, which are crucial to forming the plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, the compound may set off a chain of events that protects brain cells from damage .
While this research is intriguing, scientists still have questions about how well the human body is able to make use of supplemental resveratrol, which limits its immediate use as a supplement to protect the brain .
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