The popularity of resveratrol supplements accelerated a few years ago when Dr. Oz began to tout resveratrol health benefits during his appearances on Oprah and Good Morning America.
This is not news to science, though, since nearly 10,000 research articles have been published on this substance since 1978.
Moreover, a comprehensive review of resveratrol by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University cited numerous studies on resveratrol health benefits, including:
- Direct antioxidant activity
- Cancer prevention
- Cardiovascular disease prevention
- Neurodegenerative disease prevention
- Anti-aging properties
Much of the scientific research on resveratrol has explored its influence on cardiovascular health. One of the most important of such effects involves how resveratrol improves the health of blood vessel walls.
Healthy blood vessels are crucial for the good blood flow that keeps inflammatory hormones, LDL cholesterol and oxygen radicals moving along quickly. Keeping such substances from hanging around too long is a crucial key for reducing their danger to cardiovascular health.
This is where we depend on healthy blood vessel walls. Keeping them in good working order is where resveratrol does its best work.
What Vessel Walls Do
Vessel walls are very active metabolically. The inner layer, called the vascular endothelium, is responsible for keeping blood vessels open and for building a super-slippery layer that allows blood and its contents to slide along unimpeded. This inner wall also produces a critical substance, nitric oxide (NO), which causes blood vessels to relax. In addition, NO helps with the repair of vessel walls, which is necessary for keeping the vascular endothelium healthy.
The overall benefits of healthy blood vessel walls also include the prevention of blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes. An additional, related benefit from resveratrol is its ability to prevent the formation of arterial calcium deposits that can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Resveratrol and Vascular Health
Resveratrol has several protective effects on the cardiovascular system. The most well-studied might be its role in enhancing the production of nitric oxide (NO). Besides the ability to keep vessel walls healthy, NO also promotes blood vessel dilation—i.e., it keeps vessels open for better blood flow.
Blood also contains platelets, which are important factors for causing blood cells to stick together to stop bleeding. This is fine except when platelets get out of hand, leading to too much clotting in the wrong places. Resveratrol prevents excessive clotting by keeping platelets from becoming dangerously overactive.
To evaluate the impact of resveratrol on blood flow, a 2011 clinical study of patients with metabolic syndrome showed how, within 3 months, resveratrol led to improved values of flow-mediated dilation (FMD) of the major artery of the upper arm. FMD is an indicator of vascular health.
In a second clinical study in 2011, by the same scientists who did the first study, an improved FMD occurred after only a single dose of resveratrol.
In both studies, FMD returned to its earlier levels once the resveratrol treatment was discontinued.
A study in 2013 provided one potential explanation for how resveratrol works for improving endothelial health. This study showed that resveratrol inhibits certain genes that drive the formation of inflammatory hormones and cell adhesion molecules in endothelial cells. In simple terms, this means that resveratrol protects against endothelial dysfunction.
These genetic effects of resveratrol explain how it reduces the levels of markers for cardiovascular disease, such as oxidized LDL cholesterol.
These few studies are among many that show the positive impact that resveratrol has on the vascular endothelium.
Resveratrol is clearly a powerful substance for the rejuvenation of blood vessels.
Sources of Dietary Resveratrol
Resveratrol is a plant natural product that is found in grapes, mulberries, cocoa, blueberries, and cranberries. Its occurrence in grape skins means that it also occurs in red wine.
Spoiler Alert: Getting a clinically useful dose of resveratrol from red wine, as appealing as this might be, would require drinking about 24 bottles a day. The exact amount depends on the type of wine, its vintage, and the geographic region where its grapes were grown. Although drinking red wine as a health aid sounds like a good idea, it is not a practical way to get your dietary resveratrol.
This is where good supplements fill the gap. Even low doses are of benefit. Resveratrol is also very safe, since side effects from even the highest doses of basic resveratrol supplements are unknown.