Could Resveratrol Protect Against Diabetes, Heart Disease — and Extend Your Life?

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You may have heard of resveratrol — it’s the substance in red wine that helps give it its healthy characteristics. In past studies on the substance, resveratrol has been shown to have cancer-preventing properties. Now, thanks to new research that looked at resveratrol’s other benefits, it turns out it could also help with heart disease and diabetes prevention, and, as an added bonus, it could even extended life expectancy.

 Before we get to the new study, let’s briefly look at what resveratrol is. For starters, resveratrol is actually a type of polyphenol, called a phytoalexin, which belongs to a class of compounds that are created by a plant to safeguard it against disease. It’s basically produced in response to such threats as injury, infection, ultraviolet rays, stress, and fungus. You can find resveratrol in red wine, since it comes from grapes, which are high in the substance. Resveratrol is also present in high quantities in raspberries and peanuts as well.

 In past studies, scientists have found that resveratrol can help prevent tumor growth and tumor incidence in animals, inhibit cancer cell growth in culture, and even reduce inflammation. It is important to note that studies into this substance are still new on the medical scene, especially when it comes to red wine consumption and cancer prevention. However, to help shed some light on where the studies are heading, let’s look at the newest findings on resveratrol.

 The study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Aging, looked at how resveratrol could reverse gene expression patterns associated with diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases that are closely tied to obesity. What they found was that the substance could actually extend life expectancy. The study is published in the November online edition of the medical journal Nature.

 Researchers looked at three groups of mice, which were broken down as follows: 1) fed a standard diet, 2) fed a high-calorie diet, with 60% of calories derived from fat, and 3) fed the same high-cal diet as the second group, but also received resveratrol. At the onset, all the mice were aged 52 weeks (about middle age). At 60 weeks, the survival rates of the mice on the high-cal diet and those on the high-cal diet plus resveratrol began to diverge (with the resveratrol group doing better and the high-cal group declining in health), remaining separated by about a three- to four-month span.

 At the 114-week mark, 58% of the high-cal diet mice died, whereas only 42% of the standard diet and high-cal plus diet mice were still alive. Since the mice were still living at the time of the study being published, the researchers will have to wait and see just how well the resveratrol group fares, but it was already at a marked 14% median average improvement from the other groups.

 The researchers found that after six months, the mice that were given resveratrol basically did not experience most of the negative effects of a high-caloric diet. According to the researchers, they used mice since they exhibit a close evolutionary tie to humans, which means that a similar impact could be seen in humans when it comes to the benefits of resveratrol. This is promising, as the best finding in the study dealt with life extension.

 According to the co-senior author of the study, David Sinclair, “The median lifespan increase we are seeing is about 15% at this point. We won’t have final lifespan numbers until all of the mice pass away, and this particular strain of mouse generally lives for two-and-a-half years. So we are around five months from having final numbers, but there is no question that we are seeing increased longevity.”

 “The mice on resveratrol have not been just living longer,” he added. “They are also living more active, better lives. Their motor skills actually show improvement as they grow older.”

 Also, along with an extended lifespan, the mice in the study experienced decreased glucose levels, a higher sensitivity to insulin, a healthier heart, and improved liver tissues as well. These benefits could potentially translate to humans. Of course, extensive human testing into these findings need to be conducted before any confirmations can be made.

 Mind you, it’s another good reason to have that occasional glass of red wine with your dinner.