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Anti-aging miracle or just another antioxidant?
You've probably heard or read news blurbs about the health benefits of the red wine compound resveratrol. Scientific studies show this powerful antioxidant can protect you from heart problems.
But research also shows this top-notch heart helper can also stop cancer from forming—and even kill a variety of existing cancer cells.
According to the National Cancer Institute, resveratrol is one of a category of plant compounds called polyphenols. You'll find high concentrations of resveratrol in red wine, grapes, raspberries, peanuts, and other plants.
In fact, these and other plants produce resveratrol to protect themselves from fungus, infection and disease. And this same compound can help prevent cell damage and protect humans from diseases too.
Scientists have discovered that resveratrol is a strong antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damaging free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that steal electrons from other cells to become more stable. Cells with missing electrons become damaged and unstable—which can make you vulnerable to diseases such as cancer.
But research shows resveratrol has the power to stop the damage that free radicals inflict on cells. That helps prevent the formation of cancer cells.
Continued below. . .
Here's What the Science Says So Far…
According to a study published in the July 1st, 2008 issue of Cancer Prevention Research1, Doctors Ercole Cavalieri and Eleanor Rogen of the University of Nebraska Medical Center wanted to determine how resveratrol might impact the formation of cancer cells.
The researchers tested a blend of resveratrol, the amino acid n-acetyl-l-cysteine, lipoic acid, and melatonin. They found that adding resveratrol greatly enhanced the body's natural protective mechanisms.
In their study these scientists tested the formula with and without resveratrol. They found that adding resveratrol greatly reduced the formation of breast cancer cells.
More studies are underway to see how resveratrol affects the initiation, promotion, and progression of cancer. In addition to killing breast cancer cells, studies have shown so far that resveratrol could be an effective way to:
Although laboratory tests show resveratrol might help prevent both cardiovascular disease and cancer, don't bet the farm that it's the ultimate cancer cure…
Noted medical author Dr. Stephen Barrett, M.D. points out that most resveratrol research focuses on short-term effects. Plus, he notes that most studies are performed in labs on non-human models — either on animals or in vitro (that is, on cell cultures).
Barrett expresses concern about the lack of information on how your body absorbs and processes resveratrol—or even about ways in which it may affect your liver. I'm not sure these caveats are that important, but I agree we're short of solid proof that resveratrol is a major new weapon against cancer.
What bothers me most is this: there are a great many antioxidants. Is resveratrol all that unique and special? We don't really know. And as for getting it by drinking wine. . .
Is red wine now a food supplement?
It's important to remember that red wine is the most popular food source of resveratrol. Largely because of the resveratrol studies, red wine has been touted as practically a magic elixir. Many people think they've been handed a "get out of jail free" card where their drinking is concerned.
I don't remember where, but a few years ago I came across a French study showing that heavy red wine consumption over a long period of time drastically cut your risk of Alzheimer's disease. But the amount of wine needed was way more than is healthy.
If you think wine has now been declared a food supplement, I'd say , "Hold on a minute." Increasing red wine consumption to boost resveratrol intake could eventually cause liver damage and addiction!
Also, there's a tendency to assume that resveratrol is the "magic ingredient" in red wine, but wine contains many other compounds and we can't be sure the dramatic results are due to resveratrol alone.
Drink to your health?
In fact, it's not clear where the research is headed on the relationship between alcohol consumption and good health. Beer and hard liquor don't contain resveratrol. But it appears that "moderate" drinking — beer, spirits OR wine, take your pick — will keep you alive longer. And at this point experts don't know why.
That's from Chapter Three of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, just released on January 31. The Guidelines tell us, "Alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation (up to two drinks daily). Strong evidence from observational studies has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease."
The key finding is, "Moderate alcohol consumption also is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults and may help to keep cognitive function [i.e. your brain] intact with age."
Two drinks each and every day doesn't strike me as moderate, but I admit it might be safe for most people. Also, there's the problem that the Dept. of Agriculture is famous for circulating idiotic advice about what to eat. For all I know the "scientists" responsible for this finding have ties to the booze and wine industry. That's pretty much the modus operandi among people like that.
I mention the USDA's opinion on alcohol because it adds fuel to the red wine fad, and resveratrol is usually considered the reason red wine is healthy. The news from the USDA suggests there's more going on than just resveratrol.
Because he's not sure about the quality of resveratrol supplements, Barrett suggests occasional use of red wine—along with a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies—could be a safe way to enjoy some of resveratrol's health benefits.
On the whole, I vote for supplements as the way to go, with a little wine now and then (NOT two glasses a day). My take is that resveratrol is a very good antioxidant. The few cancer/resveratrol studies that exist are very encouraging. But I don't think it's a magic bullet. If you'd like to try it, click here for a product from one of our loyal supporters.
1 Lu,F., Zahid, M. et al. 2008. Resveratrol Prevents Estrogen-DNA Adduct Formation and Neoplastic Transformation in MCF-10F Cells.Retrieved 1/28/11 from http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/1/2/135.abstract
Barrett, S. 2009. Resveratrol: Don't Buy the Hype. Retrieved 1/31/11 from http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/DSH/resveratrol.html
National Cancer Institute. 2002. Red Wine and Cancer Prevention: Fact Sheet. Retrieved 1/28/2011 from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/red-wine-and-cancer-prevention
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