Resveratrol, a chemical compound found in red grapes, the skin of grapes, blueberries, cranberries and peanuts has been found to have many anti-aging and health promoting benefits. Plants naturally produce this substance to fight both fungi and bacteria when under attack by these pathogens.
Scientists started to study resveratrol when they observed that the French consume much greater amounts of saturated fats in their diet, indulge in lots of wonderful creamy sauces and yet have an unexpectedly lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than Americans. This phenomenon known as "The French Paradox" suggested that the greater amounts of red wine consumption by the French had protective side effects against the disease. Intensive research led to the identification of resveratrol. The diverse health benefits associated with this compound include its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antioxidant activities. It protects glutathione, our "master" antioxidant and is known for its brain and cardiovascular protective qualities.
Further research led to even more exciting findings. Experiments with fish, yeast, fruit flies and nematodes resulted in findings showing resveratrol had the ability to increase lifespan and delay the aging process. Research in mice clearly report the improvement in metabolic efficiency, reduction in blood glucose, body weight and delay in age related diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
In one experiment, mice that were given resveratrol had increased aerobic capacity, measured by their increased running time. Another animal study done at Cornell University reported that amyloid plaque, associated with both Alzheimer's Disease and the aging brain, was significantly reduced with supplementation of resveratrol. Studies also have shown the anti-inflammatory effect of resveratrol, indicating its potential as an aid for those suffering from arthritis. In both animal and human clinical trials resveratrol proved effective in ameliorating diabetic symptoms and lowering blood sugar levels.
Scientists know that the one intervention that promotes a longer life span is calorie restriction with adequate nutrition. All species tested lived longer with calorie restriction. But, most people are not willing to comply with such restriction. The good news is that resveratrol turns on the same gene, called the Sirtuin gene, which mimics calorie restriction. This family of genes is found in virtually all iiving organisms including humans, animals, plants, bacteria and fungi. In all of these organisms the Sirtuins play a role in the reduction of cellular stress and the promotion of cell survival. The bottom line is that resveratrol turns on the genes that protect us from disease and aging even though we are not practicing calorie restriction.
The question of how this happens revolves around resveratrol's action on the mitochondria, the little "powerhouse" of the cell that is responsible for energy production. A most widely accepted theory and one with the most evidential support indicates that calorie restriction promotes longevity by reducing free radical, oxidative damage to the mitochondria. In the 1980's, studies showed that it was the mitochondria that was most vulnerable to damage from highly reactive free radical molecules. The exact mechanism by which calorie restriction helps the mitochondria is not totally known, but it is most likely that the mitochondria need less oxygen in a calorie restrictive state.
Anything that increases mitochondrial development and function is of great benefit to our health. Proper diet, exercise and resveratrol all influence the efficiency of our mitochondria, which in turn helps us to live a longer, healthier life.