For years, you’ve read about how red wine—a staple of the French diet—is one reason why the French have a low rate of heart disease despite their reputation for overloading on rich, high-sugar and high-fat foods. Sounds good, doesn’t it? What those reports don’t tell you, though, is that the French also have the highest rate of liver cirrhosis in the world! Red wine can be a double-edged sword, and that’s what I tell patients who proudly inform me they’ve increased their intake of red wine as part of a lifestyle overhaul. I remind them about the downside of alcohol, and encourage them to drink it in moderation. A glass every day or two is the limit.
Red wine, or rather the red grape, definitely has some good things going for it. Researchers at Harvard University have found that huge amounts of a red wine extract called resveratrol significantly increased the health, vitality, and lifespan of obese mice—despite them being fed an unhealthy, high-fat diet. This extract also appeared to extend the life of normal mice.
In addition to longer life, the researchers found that the supplemented mice also had a lower rate of diabetes, liver problems, and other fat-related disorders. In fact, they were astounded to discover that the organs of the mice looked normal even though they shouldn’t have. The findings prompted the suggestion that mammals given ultra-high doses of resveratrol might be able to reap the benefits of cutting calories without the challenge of actually doing it. More studies are being planned, possibly with monkeys.
Why Is Resveratrol So Protective?
Resveratrol is a flavonoid antioxidant compound in grape skins. You’ll also find it in red grape juice and red grapes, and you can purchase it in supplement form (the supplements are much more concentrated). It is indeed an exciting and promising substance, and I’ve been including it in my supplement formulas for years.
Before the latest tests with mice, researchers found that resveratrol also had anti-aging effects in yeast, worms, and fruit flies. More than 1,500 experiments on resveratrol have been conducted since the 1980s, and the research appears to be accelerating. Here are a few of the important findings:
- It protects against free radical damage to the sensitive endothelial lining of arteries in atherosclerosis.
- It improves mitochondrial function (cellular energy production) and aerobic capacity in animal studies.
- It speeds the death of various human cancer cells in laboratory experiments.
- It protects against fragile, leaky blood vessels that are involved in age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy—major causes of vision loss.
You may wonder how much resveratrol the long-living mice received. Good question. The answer: the equivalent of an adult human drinking a hundred bottles of wine a day!
Obviously, that amount is hardly a workable option for you and me. We still have much more to learn about the benefits and limitations of resveratrol supplementation for humans, but for now I recommend 25–30 mg of reseveratrol a day in supplement form to start, not to exceed 250 mg a day.