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General Health Articles

Resveratrol, Red Wine & Your Health

For many years red wine has been thought to be healthy for you. Only within the last 25 years was the reason, or at least a possible explanation, discovered. Red wine is red because the skins of the grapes are processed with it and color it. The skins themselves contain resveratrol (RSV), a kind of phytoalexin, a plant-based antimicrobial substance. Resveratrol can also be used to treat cancer, inflammation, and cardiovascular problems. However it occurs in significant concentrations only in grapes that are grown organically, because it is the plant's response to fungus. If the grapes are sprayed with a pesticide, then the plant does not respond.

Because of its effect on cancer cells, especially prostate cancer (see below), resveratrol is being actively studied as a preventative measure and partial treatment for cancer. There is also a theory that it could protect and treat Alzheimer's patients. Much research has been done on resveratrol, mostly in laboratories. More research needs to be done to prove these health benefits in humans, but many who consume resveratrol for its health effects already believe that it works.

Resveratrol occurs in grapes and survives the wine making process for red wine, which is fermented with the skins. It is produced naturally by the vine as a reaction to fungus, and this is triggered by yeast when wine is fermented. It is present in the skins of grapes, in some but not all seeds, and in the stems. It also occurs in other plants, like peanuts, the roots of white hellebore, blueberries, bilberries, cranberries, and Japanese knotweed. It also occurs in cocoa and chocolate, in amounts almost as high as red wine and grape juice.

• The high concentration found in supplemental form is probably the best way to add resveratrol to your diet. The amount of wine necessary to drink to equal the amount of resveratrol in supplements would open you up to possible alcohol poisoning, as well as alcohol-related diseases

• RSV seems to be most effective in diminishing platelet aggregation when there is a trace amount of the mineral selenium present

• A new study by the University of South Florida's Health Sciences Center suggests that resveratrol can help prevent and possibly treat liver disease caused by alcoholism. It prevents the fatty buildup that leads to cirrhosis and fibrosis, caused by alcohol blocking two proteins that break down fat in the liver. This can lead to total liver failure

• Several studies have linked polyphenols like RSV to an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol, and recent studies published in Nutrition Review suggest that resveratrol can reduce bad cholesterol

• The study published in Nutrition Review also suggested a connection between resveratrol and reduced insulin sensitivity, as well as added protection for the nervous system

• The polyphenols, especially quercetin and resveratrol, are also better able to protect LDL from oxidation, which leads to fat deposits on the artery walls, and studies suggest that they are much more powerful than vitamin E

• Traditional Japanese medicine uses a compound called kojo-kon, which contains RSV obtained from a plant called polygonnum cuspidatum

• Researchers at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center say that RSV provides a strong defense against prostate cancer. Others have stated that resveratrol can destroy cancer cells outright, and at any stage of their development

Linoleic acid, which occurs in sunflower oil, safflower oil, rapeseed oil, palm oil, soybeans and poppy seeds, has been linked to the growth of cancer cells when it is broken down in the body, and this process is blocked by RSV. It is an essential fatty acid (known as Omega-6 or ω-6 fatty acids), but only in limited quantities

• It also seems to play a part in inhibiting the spread of cancer by interfering with an enzyme that is involved in cellular growth (ornithine decarboxylase), and yet seems to have no negative effects on healthy, non-cancer cells

• It can decrease the PSA (prostate specific antigen) in cancer cells significantly

• It seems to have a positive effect on people suffering from Alzheimer's, because of its powerful anti-oxidative qualities, chiefly the ability to protect the brain from free radical damage

• There is also the suggestion based on a Chinese study that RSV can be used to treat strokes, spinal cord injuries, and other injuries where the body's response actually causes more harm through inflammation, but this has not yet been tested elsewhere

• Studies have shown that it can activate other compounds and vitamins to make them more effective, for instance vitamin D3, which converts to a steroid that inhibits breast cancer

• Studies also suggest that resveratrol can kill the bacteria that cause ulcers, H. pylori

• Studies on worms, flies and yeast have shown that RSV activates a longevity gene that extends life-span. This test has not been done on humans yet. This action is unrelated to its antioxidant qualities. It also slows down the natural aging process of DNA replication, which becomes less precise as we age. When mistakes are made, bits of DNA break off and float in the cell. These bits are called DNA debris and are part of the reason that the cell eventually dies. Scientists think that RSV cuts down on this debris by up to 60%

• The French Paradox is a term coined by a French scientist to describe why the French have a relatively low incidence of heart disease compared with Americans, and yet eat more saturated fat. Resveratrol seems to keep platelets from sticking together as easily, a process called platelet aggregation. However other researchers think that the amount of RSV in red wine is too small to cause the differences. It is important to note that alcohol itself actually increases the stickiness of platelets; it is only resveratrol in red wine that appears to have a positive effect

• Another study discovered that certain polyphenols found only in red wines from specific areas in Europe had a beneficial effect on the cell walls of blood vessels. This phenomenon might be responsible for the French Paradox. RSV seems to promote nitric acid, which has a beneficial effect on the walls of blood vessels

Red wine and resveratrol continue to be linked in connection with a healthy diet. In 2000 a Danish study of 25,000 people found that red wine drinkers reduce their risk of dying from any condition by 40%. Scientists are still looking at resveratrol for the answers.

• Resveratrol occurs in the skins, stems and some seeds, all of which are used in the processing and fermentation of red wine

• There are other factors that determine the amount of RSV in wine besides the inclusion of skins in red wine fermentation: because resveratrol occurs naturally as a plant's response to fungus, grape vines that are sprayed with a fungicide do not need to develop it, and so wine made from them will contain little or no RSV. The type of wine also determines the amount, if any, of resveratrol. Grapes grown in humid climates will have more resveratrol than ones grown in dry climates

• Because many commercially produced red wines contain only trace amounts of RSV, the best way to get it is by using a supplement. Most supplements are made from certain grapes, and from the roots of the Asian medicinal plant Japanese knotweed (Polygonnum cuspidatum)

• Approximately 90% of the phenols in red wine are flavonoids, of which resveratrol is one type

• Although it can help as a preventative measure, drinking red wine for RSV and other polyphenols would not be an effective treatment for an established cancer

• The taste of wine is largely dictated by the amount and types of polyphenols in it. Tannin is probably the best known of these

• Wine that is aged in oak barrel also takes on phenols that occur naturally in the wood (tannins) in addition to those already in the grapes

• The size of the barrel determines the extent to which the wood affects the wine: the smaller the barrel and larger the surface area the better

• Studies suggest that many of the other polyphenols in red wine (catechins, quercetin, epicatechin and others) can inhibit cancer growth

• The Muscadine grape, native to North America, is especially high in RSV and other polyphenols

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