Resveratrol is a chemical compound found in certain plants. It is called a phytoalexin because plants naturally produce it as an antibiotic substance to fight both bacteria and fungi. Plants containing resveratrol include the grapes and skins of grapes that produce wine, raspberries, mulberries, blueberries and cranberries. It can also be found in peanuts, certain pine trees and in Japanese knotweed.
Many believe that resveratrol may have anti-aging properties, which has caused the substance, usually derived from Japanese knotweed, to be marketed as a nutritional supplement. So far, studies conducted on mice have provided the only evidence for claims that it may lead to longer life.
One of the initial reasons that resveratrol was considered as potentially beneficial was observation of the French lifestyle. Though the French tend to consume a diet higher in fats than in many other countries, they have an unexpectedly low incidence of heart disease. Many believe that the lower levels of heart disease are due to frequent consumption of red wine. Although it has been shown that red wine has anti-coagulating effects, many feel that resveratrol may also play a role.
It should be stated that the amount of resveratrol in red wine is relatively minimal. Probably the best common food source if one wants to consume this compound in its natural state is peanuts. Peanuts have significantly higher content than do any berries or grapes that produce the chemical.
Preliminary studies suggest that resveratrol might be an excellent antioxidant, may extend exercise tolerance, and may help reduce memory loss. There is some evidence to support the claim that it may increase the ability to fight retroviruses like HIV and herpes simplex.
Since it is also an anti-aging drug, it has already been marketed as a nutritional supplement. This may be a bit premature since not all negative impacts have been studied. There is some evidence in mice studies to suggest that resveratrol might act like an estrogen in the body and actually contribute to more cases of breast cancer.
However, the nutritional supplement of resveratrol contains tiny amounts, compared to what can be naturally derived from food. Some suggest that when resveratrol is consumed in food, it may actually leave the body much more quickly than the chemical supplement version would. As well, the supplements are at much lower doses than those used in most mouse studies, so effects might be minimized.
Still, resveratrol remains an interesting plant compound that deserves further study. The Food and Drug Administration has registered it as an investigational drug, so it is likely to receive more study. Some evidence certainly exists to suggest that it may prove of great benefit to humans.