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Resveratrol, The Wonder Drug for Rats
But will it help me?

Red Wine has trace amounts of resveratrol.

The news was too good to be true. In November 2006, a study by Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging showed that obese mice lived longer, healthier lives - without dieting - when they consumed large doses of red wine extract.

The extract the mice were given is called resveratrol, a compound that plants produce to help protect them from bacteria and fungi. The mice ate a high-fat diet, didn't have to exercise and yet their fat-related death rates dropped 31 percent. What was even more amazing is the organs of the obese mice looked normal, not ravaged by the fat as researchers expected.

In 2008, there was more good news.

LifeGen Technologies in Wisconsin announced that, "A low dose of dietary resveratrol partially mimics caloric restriction and retards aging parameters in mice." Shortly after that, the University of Granada in Spain found that obese Zucker rats given resveratrol had reduced metabolic disturbances and lower blood pressure.

It seemed like resveratrol was the wonder drug that an increasingly obese America was looking for. Supplement companies started cranking out pills and the marketing hype kicked in. A few that caught my eye include; "Resveratrol EXTENDS LIFE", "Resveratrol slows the onset of VIRTUALLY ALL of the aging diseases" and my personal favorite, "Resveratrol repairs alcohol -damaged livers, slows bone loss (osteoporosis), boosts endurance, promotes hair growth, and re-energizes cells."

Never mind that there are only a few studies. Forget about the fact that the companies responsible for two of the most significant studies were created to sell or manufacture the drug they were testing. Don't worry that nobody had any idea how much a human should take or if there were any long term side-effects. We all saw those fat mice lived longer!

The perfect drug is here. Shouldn't everyone take resveratrol?

Not so fast. While the studies showing resveratrol is the new miracle drug are in all the newspapers, other research is bringing up troubling questions. In August of 2008, the National Institute on Aging released a study that said resveratrol does delay age-related deterioration, but it did not extend life span. That's right. Mice fed a regular diet did not live a longer life by taking resveratrol. It gets worse.

In September of 2008, the Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine published a study that said, "Resveratrol...delivers either survival signal or death signal to the ischemic myocardium depending on dose."

What that means in plain English is this. If you take a low enough dose of resveratrol, your heart should be fine. Take too much and you risk damaging or destroying your heart.

If you're currently taking resveratrol, I'm guessing you were never told it hasn't been shown to increase human lifespan. I'm also guessing you weren't told it might damage your heart. You probably weren't told there is no published human research on what dose might be appropriate, how much longer you might live or any other specific things those pills are supposed to do to help you.

You were sold the promise that if you took that pill, just like that fat rat your life would somehow be better. Shut up, pay up and don't ask questions.

Since supplement companies won't tell you, I will. Resveratrol is a compound that has promise, but there is extremely limited research available that has been conducted on humans. If you're an obese rat, this is the drug for you. If you're a human, you're wasting your money and risking your health on an unproven compound.

Don't pay those companies to be a test guinea pig and certainly don't gamble on a pill. If you want to live longer, there are some very simple things you can do.

  • Eat less and you'll lose weight.
  • Walk more and you'll have more energy.
  • Sleep more and you'll feel better when you wake up.
  • Play more and let the stresses of the day slip away.

Here's a short video by Daniel Reynen (President of WeBeFit) that explains more about antioxidants.

UPDATE: 12/4/2015

It's been over six years since we first wrote about resveratrol and the news is both good and bad. The good news is that resveratrol still has potential.

In a paper titled, "Resveratrol: Challenges in translating pre-clinical findings to improved patient outcomes," the authors point out that resveratrol has demonstrated "beneficial effects in ANIMAL MODELS of hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke, ischemic heart disease, arrhythmia, chemotherapy-induced cardiotoxicity, diabetic cardiomyopathy, and heart failure."

Unfortunately, human clinical trials are still limited and several conflicting results from the trials that have taken place have been reported. Here are a few of the hits and misses.

BAD NEWS: In a study on Brazilian military firefighters who took either a resveratrol supplement for 90 days or a placebo, researchers found that, "The fitness test applied to Brazilian military firefighters was not sufficient to challenge the antioxidant defense systems, and, therefore, 100mg of resveratrol for three months did not induce significant effects."

BAD NEWS: In a study published in May of 2015 titled, "Resveratrol supplementation: Where are we now and where should we go?" the authors stated that, "there is no consistent evidence of an increased protection against metabolic disorders and other ailments when comparing studies in laboratory animals and humans."

BAD NEWS: The use of resveratrol to affect prostate volume in middle-aged men. In a study published in September of 2015 titled, "Resveratrol reduces the levels of circulating androgen precursors but has no effect on testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, PSA levels or prostate volume. A 4-month randomised trial in middle-aged men." the authors concluded this. "The present study suggests that resveratrol does not affect prostate volume in healthy middle-aged men as measured by PSA levels and CT acquired prostate volumes. Consequently, we find no support for the use of resveratrol in the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia."

GOOD NEWS: For people with active ulcerative colitis, a study published in May of 2015 titled, "Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Resveratrol in Patients with Ulcerative Colitis: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-controlled Pilot Study." came to the following conclusion. "Our results indicate that 6 weeks supplementation with 500 mg resveratrol can improve quality of life and disease clinical colitis activity at least partially through inflammation reduction in patients with UC. Whether these effects will be continued in longer duration of treatment remains to be determined."

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS: In a study of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease published in September of 2015, researchers found a little good and a little bad. The good news is that in a 12-week supplementation trial using 500 mg of resveratrol, it reduced something called alanine aminotransferase (ALT). When a liver is diseased or damaged, it releases ALT into the blood. Resveratrol reduced the amount of ALT levels circulating in the blood. However, researchers also found that "12-week supplementation of 500 mg resveratrol does not have any beneficial effect on anthropometric measurements, insulin resistance markers, lipid profile and blood pressure." The study was titled, "The effects of resveratrol supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study."

Other studies are ongoing, but the results still suggest caution. Despite being available for several years, no supplement company has put together a double-blind trial to make sure resveratrol doesn't harm people with prolonged use. Trials still haven't come up with an optimum dose that can be guaranteed not to damage the heart. No trial has shown that resveratrol can actually extend life, one of the primary selling points of companies pushing the supplement.

Unless you're dealing with ulcerative colitis, taking resveratrol supplements, especially ones where the amount of resveratrol isn't disclosed, is a risky proposition. Supplement companies that hide the actual amount may include so little it's ineffective or so much it can threaten your health. If they don't care enough about you to tell you what's in your supplement, you shouldn't put it in your body.

You wouldn't take a pill from a pharmaceutical company without the ingredients and clinical results being available. Why give blind faith to a supplement company that's not nearly so well regulated?

UPDATE: 12/4/2015

The news just keeps getting worse for resveratrol supplements.

If you're a rodent, resveratrol supplements have been shown to increase physical capacity, cardiovascular function, decrease inflammation and lower cardio risk factors. Those are all good things for a mouse.

If you’re a human, resveratrol supplements have been shown to do almost exactly the opposite. It can lower cardio function by 45 percent. Some of the benefits of training like the reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides virtually disappear for people who also take resveratrol. What little longer-term trials are available show it may even increase the risk of dying. Why would you take something with no proven benefit but a real link to harm? Skip it.

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Updated 12/4/2015
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