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RESVERATROL (3,5,4'-trihydroxystilbene) is both a polyphenol, which provides color in plants, and a phytoalexin, a class of chemical compounds that plants produce for protection against disease, especially fungal infections. Resveratrol can be found in roots, stalks, vines, seeds, and fruit. Plants as diverse as vines, lilies, and pines produce resveratrol.

Resveratrol is also present in several sources of human food, such as peanuts and raspberries. Nature's highest concentration of resveratrol, however, is in the skin of grapes. While there is a fairly wide variation in content between grape varieties, those grown in climates that are cool and damp, where fungal diseases are more prevalent, are found to have especially high resveratrol content.

The prophylactic effect of resveratrol in plants may also benefit humans. Clinical and statistical evidence and laboratory studies have shown that resveratrol boosts the immune system, blocks the formation of some cancers, offers protections against heart disease, and even prolongs life generally. Research is in its relative infancy, since resveratrol only gained the attention of the scientific community near the end of the 20th Century, as a possible explanation of the "French Paradox".

It is known that resveratrol is highly-effective as an antioxidant, compared to vitamins C or E, but not as effective as quercetin and epicatechin, which are other anti-oxidants found in red wine.

A study published in the 2004 year-end edition of the American Journal of Physiology indicates that resveratrol inhibits formation of a protein that produces a condition called cardio fibrosis, a condition which reduces the heart's pumping efficiency when it is needed most, at times of stress.

A Harvard study of factors that influence aging, as reported in the May 8, 2003, issue of the journal Nature, shows that resveratrol extends the lifespan of yeast cells, round worms, and fruit flies, by as much as 80%. Preliminary results of tests on multicellular animals are encouraging; study co-author David Sinclair told Reuters News Agency that "Not many people know about it yet, but those who do have almost invariably changed their drinking habits, that is, they drink more red wine."

Resveratrol content in wine is directly related to how long the skins macerate in the fermentation. One fluid ounce of red wine contains more than double the amount of resveratrol found in an ounce by weight of peanuts. White wine, since it is made from juice that is pressed and separated from the skins prior to fermentation, contains very little. Regardless of color, resveratrol content in wine is so miniscule that it should not enter into a wine consumption decision. Grape juice, which is not fermented, is also not a significant source of resveratrol, regardless of color.

Although research collectively shows that regular moderate red wine consumption produces benefits, it is not yet known whether or how efficiently the body absorbs and processes resveratrol or other compounds found in red wine. Overall, while the potential for health benefits is encouraging, not enough study has yet been completed to prescribe increased red wine usage to the general population. The possibilities of alcohol addiction and liver damage are risks that still outweigh the benefits for many.

For further explanations of resveratrol and assessments of its health potential, see Quackwatch: Resveratrol and Better Humans: Longevity Uncorked.

Page created March 17, 2005; updated October 4, 2014
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