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What Is It: Resveratrol

May 3, 2009 Reviewed by Marta 0 Comments

Not since the near mass hysteria that followed the "French Paradox" item, which aired on 60 Minutes 18 years ago (can you believe that it was in 1991?), has red wine been so hot. Or, to be more precise, resveratrol. Part of the latest hoo-hah is due to Oprah's Dr Oz. He has been prosletizing the anti-aging virtues of resveratrol and there are ads running everywhere where he endorses resveratrol supplements. It's time to get under the skin of resveratrol.

The bottom line — for those with short attention spans, or perhaps just better things to do such as pour themselves are glass of Zin — is that resveratrol lives up to most of its hype. It is an anti-ager and antioxidant. And a pretty powerful one. Most scientists agree that it is one helluva molecule. But there is one little wrinkle. Getting resveratrol, which is found in red grape skins, into our bodies takes more than a swig of table wine with dinner.

Part of the problem is that it takes a lot of resveratrol to have any significant impact. A 2006 study on resveratrol-fed mice  - which demonstrated that mammals that consumed resveratrol aged more slowly - grabbed headlines around the world and is in large part responsible for everyone equating red grapes with longevity. But the catch was that the mice were given the human equivalent of 1,500 bottles of wine a day. Subsequent studies have had good results with only a few hundred bottles — but even for enthusiastic wine drinker such as myself, this is several hundred too many.

Resveratrol supplements abound and we are encouraged to think that they are in some concentrated form that means we can forego the liver damage route. Take these supplements, we are told (even by the lovely Dr Oz), and we will live longer and look younger. Yeay! Except there is another little snagette. Resveratrol isn't well assimilated by the body.

It is extremely well absorbed by the body and then ejected. Various tests have shown that resveratrol quickly winds up in urine. For example, when six healthy men and women took an oral dose of 25 mg of trans-resveratrol, only traces of the unchanged resveratrol were detected in plasma (blood). This puts a bit of a downer on the whole resveratrol miracle because (apart from the mice) all the other clinical trials that helped put grape skin on the anti-aging map had been conducted in petri dishes.

However, for us wrinkle warriors, there is some excellent news. Topically, it works. Yeay! A very recent study (in 2008) concluded that "delivery via a skin route may be a potent way to achieve the therapeutic effects of resveratrol". In another study on hairless mice, a single topical application of resveratrol significantly inhibited UVB-mediated phototoxicity and enhanced skin thickness. Yet other studies have shown that topically applied, its free radical scavenging abilities do a power of good against skin cancer. Another good reason to start loving my new Jan Marini facial mask.

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