Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in some foods, including red grapes. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, various studies show that resveratrol can inhibit growth of cancer cells, increase the life span of lab animals and could possibly help to prevent heart disease. It might even explain the "French paradox."
The French Paradox
The term "French paradox" has been used since a 1979 study that looked at cardiac deaths in developed countries and found higher wine consumption related to fewer deaths from heart disease. The French tend to have low levels of heart disease compared to Americans, despite smoking cigarettes and consuming a diet high in saturated fats. The other significant item in the French diet is red wine --- and red wine contains both resveratrol and bioflavonoids, which may help to prevent heart disease.
Reviewing the Research
According to the research reviewed by the Linus Pauling Institute, resveratrol has a variety of possible health effects. Current research includes studies to see if resveratrol might be a cancer preventative or even a treatment for cancer, because it has been found to inhibit the growth of breast, colon and prostate cancer cells. Some studies in mice indicate this compound may prevent heart disease. It has also been found both to mimic the action of estrogen and to conflict with estrogen. In the lab, resveratrol has also been shown to keep platelets --- blood cells that help the blood to clot --- from clumping, and to help blood vessels dilate. One line of research has to do with resveratrol's effects on increasing longevity. The Institute adds, however, that while the research results from these studies are intriguing, there is no clear evidence that resveratrol has significant health effects in humans.
Grapes and Resveratrol
You may be able to obtain resveratrol by eating foods such as red grapes, by drinking red wine or by drinking red or purple grape juice. Resveratrol is found in a number of foods, including red grapes, peanuts, grape juice, cranberries, bilberries and lingonberries. It's the skins of the red grapes that contain resveratrol, and red wine is higher in this substance because it spends more time in contact with grape skins during the fermentation process.
Considerations and Warnings
Because resveratrol seems to have some effects on estrogen, women who have estrogen-sensitive cancers should not take resveratrol supplements. Women who are pregnant should not drink wine or other forms of alcohol. If you have questions, consult your health-care practitioner. Don't let the information about resveratrol encourage you to start drinking, and keep your consumption moderate if you do. The Mayo Clinic says that the studies of resveratrol effects in mice used a dose equivalent to between 100 and 1,000 bottles of wine per day.