Resveratrol_Healthy_HeartIn recent years, the media has been buzzing about a phenomenon called the French paradox: the people in France reportedly have a lower incidence of heart disease despite a high-fat diet. This paradox has been associated with wine consumption, and resveratrol, a potent polyphenol in the grapes that wine is made from, has been widely touted as the reason for this effect. Studies have confirmed that resveratrol does exhibit effects that can be beneficial to the cardiovascular (and other) physiological systems. Even those that question whether resveratrol could be the sole explanation of the French paradox—since it would seem to take 52 bottles of wine a day to replicate the amount of resveratrol in certain positive studies—acknowledge that resveratrol appears to be beneficial to cardiovascular health.74 Additionally, in some animal studies high doses of resveratrol only exerted a minimally greater positive effect on certain cardiovascular functions than the much lower doses—suggesting that the 52 bottles of wine figure does not reflect the true benefits of much lower amounts of resveratrol once ingested.75

Research has consistently shown that chronic inflammation can cause a number of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease (and others that contribute to it). Reports suggest that some of resveratrol’s preventive and therapeutic effects may be due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.75

For example, resveratrol has been shown to inhibit the dysfunctional production or activity of pro-inflammatory proteins associated with the development of heart disease, such as the COX and tumor necrosis factor-alpha enzymes. In animal studies, resveratrol appears to help the heart develop resistance to damage due to reduced blood flow, probably by promoting the production of nitrous oxide (commonly abbreviated as NO) and antioxidant proteins which protect cardiovascular cells.75

Although resveratrol did not seem to have any effect on hypertension in some rat studies,75 other research indicates resveratrol is able to relax and dilate blood vessels, which could help lower blood pressure.45 Numerous animal, laboratory, and human studies or clinical trials have demonstrated that resveratrol exerts multiple heart benefits:

RESVERATROL’S CARDIOVASCULAR EFFECTS Lab Studies Animal Studies Human Studies/Trials
Healing Effects on Blood Vessels and Heart Tissue
Accelerates repair of injured arteries and improves development of new blood vessels after injury.74-75 Y Y n/a
By itself and with other polyphenolsi present in red wine, increases production of endothelial progenitor cells, which come from bone marrow and have been linked to blood vessel lining repair and improved endothelial functioning.76-77 n/a n/a Y
Helps directly regulate the genes in heart cells that are sensitive to adverse conditions such as high blood pressure and heart attack.78 Y n/a
Inhibits inflammation and proliferation of fibroblastsii, which helps prevent fibrosis—a stiffening of the heart tissue from excess collagen that leads to dysfunction and organ damage.75 Y n/a n/a
Protects sensitive blood vessel wall cells by blocking the production of enzymes that promote creation of free radicals and also by limiting the effects of these destructive oxidative molecules.75 Y Y n/a
Prevents negative effects of obesity on cardiovascular system.75 n/a Y n/a
Maintaining Healthy Cholesterol Levels & Prevention of Atherosclerosis
Blocks formation of free radicals by impeding oxidation of LDL cholesterol particles, which is linked to risk of heart disease and heart attacks.74 n/a Y n/a
Dilates blood vessels and improves blood flow by enhancing NO production, inhibiting platelet formation, and stimulating molecules that promote healthy vascular tone, even in high-cholesterol conditions.74 Y Y n/a
Helps stop monocytesiii from sticking to blood vessel walls and delays the development of atherosclerosisiv by suppressing the expression of inflammatory chemokine proteins (e.g., fractalkine).75 Y Y n/a
In conjunction with other grape polyphenolsi, reduces levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood.79 n/a n/a Y
Reduces cholesterol accumulation and risk of atherosclerosis by activating genes that stimulate the human macrophagesv to release the cholesterol so it can be moved to and excreted by the liver.74,80 Y Y n/a
Similar to aspirin, inactivates and impedes actions of pro-inflammatory molecules that lead to constriction of blood vessels.74-75 Y Y Y
Reduce Risk and Effects of Stroke
Improves motor function and other activity typically impaired after a stroke by protecting brain cells from further free radical damage and death.81 Y n/a
Reduces excessive platelet aggregation that can lead to formation of a blood clot and possible stroke or heart attack.75 Y n/a Y

Evidence of Benefit

The beneficial cardiovascular effects demonstrated by resveratrol matches those seen in a group of individuals who had engaged in long-term significant (25%) calorie restriction.74 A recently published (2010) randomized, double-blind clinical trial involving healthy but overweight and obese men suggests that resveratrol, in combination with other anti-inflammatory substances naturally found in a variety of food, may offer some similar benefits—without changes in dietary intake or exercise.82

The participants were randomly assigned into groups and given either a placebo or the supplemental dietary mix, which included resveratrol, fish oil, vitamins C and E, green tea extract, and lycopene from tomato extract. Although the supplements did not decrease C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations, they did show a measurable effect on a number of other inflammatory, metabolic, and oxidative indicators. Potential participants were excluded if they took any pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drugs on a regular basis, so the benefits could not be attributed to substances other than the supplements. All results were measured by blood tests and weekly biopsies of fat tissue from the abdomen during the 5-week study, which profiled genes in addition to proteins and metabolites. One unexpected result was a decrease in prolactin, a protein hormone produced by the brain that regulates metabolism, weight, and the development of pancreatic islets .82

Another clinical trial conducted at a diabetes and endocrinology center in New York found that resveratrol supplementation suppressed a number of inflammatory factors, including CRP, in healthy people with normal weights.83 Levels of CRP are indicative of acute and inflammatory conditions in the body, including atherosclerosis .84 Research indicates that CRP levels are associated with greater cardiovascular risk levels than either cholesterol or blood pressure, and is recognized as an important indicator of heart health by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association (AHA).84

In this study, 20 people were randomly assigned to one of two groups of 10 subjects. One group was given an herbal supplement containing 40 mg of resveratrol as the active ingredient, while the control group was given a placebo. Each subject took either the supplement or the placebo once a day for six weeks, and had blood drawn to test for inflammatory markers and free radicals after one, three, and six weeks. Compared to baseline blood measurements, the resveratrol-treated group had significantly less free radicals and a number of inflammatory markers—both of which contribute to development of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.83

So while resveratrol may not be the only explanation for the apparently good heart health of those with a reportedly high-fat diet, evidence indicates it may certainly play a beneficial role. This is not to suggest that resveratrol can replace a wholesome diet and regular exercise, but that it may synergistically improve the outcomes of these aspects of a healthy lifestyle.


References:
  • Components of plants that can influence physiological and cellular activity in humans and animals.
  • Cells that produce collagen.
  • A type of white blood cell triggered by inflammatory TNF-α proteins.
  • Commonly known as hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis is the build-up of plaque in arteries which restricts blood flow.
  • Immune cells that gather up foreign substances in the body (like cholesterol).
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Naturally occurring chemical compounds that are
considered beneficial to health.
High blood pressure.
Vasodilator effects.
CRP is an inflammatory protein produced by liver cells associated with heart
disease and other conditions related to chronic inflammation.
Groups of glandular cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, necessary to
properly metabolize glucose derived from the food we eat.
Hardening of the arteries.