Resveratrol: A Cautious Celebrity

September 15, 2009



When Harvard University professor David Sinclair, PhD, discovered a substance in red wine that explained the antiaging powers attributed to the beverage, he became a reluctant star. Millions of Americans learned about resveratrol the night that Barbara Walters featured Sinclair and his findings in a 2008 "60 Minutes" television special called "Live To Be 150: Can You Do It?" News about resveratrol quickly spread, and other media outlets made a beeline to publicize the discovery. Resveratrol's celebrity grew quickly. Many companies rushed to put resveratrol products on the market-resulting in several questionable product promotions.

To Sinclair's disappointment, he was quickly turned into an unwilling and unauthorized pitchman by companies selling resveratrol supplements on the Internet. Their ads, placed alongside search results when people typed in "antiaging" or "resveratrol," contained links such as www.dr-sinclair-resveratrol.com. One particular site, which appeared on the Internet in June, could fool the most savvy shopper into thinking that Sinclair was selling the product. On the Web site, beside a photo of Sinclair, text read: "If you have been following ‘60 Minutes,' you would have seen my segment on resveratrol and everything it can do for you. As mentioned, I take resveratrol myself, and love it."

The site offered a free trial to anyone who typed in his or her credit-card number. Those who tried to click off the ad were stopped by a large pop-up message that read: "Wait! Dr. Sinclair wants to make sure you take advantage of this limited-time opportunity!"

Sinclair says that he never uttered any of the words attributed to him by resveratrol product advertisers. In fact, he is the first to admit that although he studied resveratrol in wine, the antiaging effects of resveratrol pills have never been proven in large-scale clinical trials.

Resveratrol does show antiaging promise, Sinclair says. His lab showed that mice that were fed the chemical lived at least 15% longer than normal mice. But to get such extreme benefits, human beings might need to consume up to 5 grams of resveratrol a day, he says. That's about 80 pills a day, a dose normally found in a whole bottle of resveratrol supplements.

So, at prices of $10, $40, and even $60 for a bottle of 60 resveratrol pills, are the benefits that consumers are receiving from resveratrol supplements really worth the hype?

Jeanne Drisko, PhD, director of the integrative medicine program at Kansas University Medical Center, says that it is too soon to tell. "Resveratrol has been studied in red wine as a component that can be helpful for longevity, but unfortunately, they've only been studied in yeast, fish, and some worms. So it's in very early research stages at this time," she says. "There is promise, of course, in these early research projects that resveratrol does extend life and improves health on many levels, but there haven't been any human studies to confirm this as of yet." There are basically two effective ways to consume resveratrol, Drisko says. One is by eating red grapes, and the other is by drinking red wine.

Lack of studies hasn't kept people from pursuing resveratrol supplements. The television celebrity Dr. Oz said on the "Oprah" show that consumers would have to drink 24 bottles of wine a day to get enough resveratrol to truly benefit from it. Because of this, he suggested that consumers take a supplement instead.

THE NATURAL WAY

AS MANY BABY BOOMERS search for products that provide real antiaging benefits, they are quickly turning to more-natural alternatives. Diana Chang, MD, a general practitioner based in Los Angeles, reveals her picks for fruits and vegetables that have the highest antiaging return rate.

Cruciferous vegetables: These vegetables include veggies like broccoli, which is high in diindolylmethane (DIM), a chemical that has been proven to help slow hormonal changes in women as they age. DIM can help protect against cancer, says Chang. Broccoli, cauliflower, and mustard greens are all high in DIM and will help protect against the side effects of aging.

Garlic: Garlic contains high levels of an antiaging nutrient called allicin, which keeps the heart young and healthy, says Chang. Allicin has been shown to lower cholesterol and keep the heart pumping blood. Allicin is found in raw garlic or dehydrated-garlic supplements.

Turmeric: A mainstay in Indian food, turmeric is good for more than just making a tasty meal. Turmeric has been shown to boost the immune system, Chang says, helping with ailments such as arthritis and infections that may result from a weakened immune system.

B>Beans: Beans aren't just high in protein and fiber, Chang says. They can also help slow the signs of aging. Beans are naturally high in lignans, which can help prevent aging in women and can shield women from breast cancer.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes are high in the antioxidant lycopene, a carotenoid that can lower cholesterol and protect the heart from the effects of aging, as well as to reverse the signs of sun damage.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods: Other antioxidant-rich antiaging foods include spinach and green tea, as well as foods rich in healthy fats, like fish and olive oil, Chang says.

And there are plenty of supplements to choose from. There are currently two brands and four different strengths of resveratrol available at Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and other retail stores.

"A number of supplement companies have capitalized on this early research. There's a lot of hype around this topic, as you can tell, so it's what I call a member of the Supplement of the Month Club," Drisko says.

She continues, "We are not necessarily sure if a concentrated supplement is going to have the same benefits as the resveratrol that's found in the natural product-in the red wine or the fruit. Resveratrol supplements are often oversold, so to speak, in terms of what they can do."

Drisko also urges that consumers take resveratrol supplements with caution, because not a lot is known about how resveratrol interacts with other prescription drugs and supplements in the body. For example, doctors learned that St. John's Wort, a supplement for depression, could cause life-threatening reactions when combined with certain supplements and drugs. Resveratrol has not been studied to see how it pairs with St. John's Wort.

"We don't know at this time if resveratrol may or may not inhibit the activity of some of the drugs patients are on," Drisko says. "So it's a little bit of a warning at this time. Resveratrol sounds really good, but we still have a lot more to learn about this supplement."

Drisko expects that health professionals will learn more as research on resveratrol continues. She said that pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has decided to look at resveratrol as a potential medication. "This is a really exciting time for medicinal plants because the opportunity to develop new drugs has very good potential," she says.