One of the most well-known stories about the health benefits of eating fruit is called the French Paradox – the condition of unexpected low incidence of cardiovascular disease in French citizens who regularly eat extraordinary quantities of high-fat foods and consume red wine. These people technically should have high rates of cardiovascular disease but seem protected by the chemicals in wine.
Although we now recognize that high-fat diets are undesirable, the potential benefits of a diet rich in whole food phytochemicals are clear when combined with other healthy dietary and lifestyle practices, such as maintaining a regular exercise program.
Possibly the most publicized phytochemical in red wine is resveratrol found in the skin and seeds of red and purple grapes and dark berries like the blueberry. Having the chemical formula C14H12O3, resveratrol is chemically defined as a stilbene, viniferin or phytoalexin (a Greek-derived term meaning to “protect” (alexin) or to “ward off”).
This designation suits the function of resveratrol in the outer skin of plants as a primary fungicide and antiviral agent with potent antioxidant properties protecting against ultraviolet radiation, pests and injury. Resveratrol belongs to the general class of plant chemicals called phenolics or polyphenols, named from their composition of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms in 6-carbon rings.
Benefits of Resveratrol
By consuming blue, red, purple and black-skinned plants rich in resveratrol, humans may gain these protective benefits. Early medical research proves this to be true, as resveratrol has been shown in preliminary research on experimental animals to:
•Increase blood flow and reduce the extent of brain cell damage following stroke
•Reduce the activity of brain inflammatory mediators in a model of Alzheimer’s disease
•Reduce vascular plaque formation in rats given a high-fat diet
•Improve the rate of healing in skin wounds
•Protect against lipid oxidation in a model of pancreatitis
•Protect against cellular pathology in a model of diabetic kidney disease
•Protect against liver damage in a model of cholestasis or bile duct occlusion
•Protect against cartilage deterioration in a model of osteoarthritis
•Stimulate anti-clotting mechanisms in blood
•Suppress appetite and in turn contribute to weight control or loss
•Enhance sperm production
•Inhibit formation of cataracts
•Inhibit proliferation of the herpes simplex virus
•Prolong the lives of yeast cells, worms, fish and fruit flies, possibly through mechanisms that affect aging via slowing the rate of cell death
Resveratrol’s most compelling health effect shown in laboratory studies is its broad-spectrum anti-cancer activity. The online database of medical literature for the US National Institutes of Health, PubMed, cites nearly 500 publications over the past decade of research on resveratrol as a cancer chemopreventive nutrient.
Experimental models of breast, prostate, lung, blood, skin, brain, kidney, bladder, tongue, esophagus and colon cancer show evidence for beneficial effects of resveratrol. It appears also to sensitize cells toward cancer therapy agents, improving the benefit of these drugs. Also, when combined with other plant-derived phenolics, resveratrol’s anti-cancer actions seem to be enhanced, showing the potential benefits of antioxidant synergy from a mixed diet high in colorful fruits and vegetables rich in phytochemicals.
Resveratrol’s actions to inhibit inflammatory mediators and the growth of new blood vessels in tumors (called anti-angiogenesis), plus its ability to accelerate the rate of cancer cell death (called apoptosis, “eh-po-toe-sis”), are synergistic effects in anti-cancer activity. In other experiments, resveratrol inhibited enzymes synthesizing nitro-oxygen radicals like nitric oxide that may be involved in cancer development.
To summarize, resveratrol acts against mechanisms controlling the initiation, promotion and progression of tumor cell growth in laboratory models. It is considered one of the most promising natural anti-cancer agents.
Fortunately for us, resveratrol can be easily introduced into the diet by selecting foods like:
oRed grapes and dark grape juice
oRed wines (and even white ones, but with lower resveratrol levels)
oBlackberries, blueberries, cranberries and lingonberries (and their juices)
oPeanuts with skins and peanut butter
Take home message: Eat berries! Drink red wine! And be merry!
PubMed at http://pubmed.gov; type “resveratrol AND” in the search space, add the topic of your interest, and click on Go to view literature.
Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/
Copyright 2006 Berry Health Inc.