Wine and Grapes: Reveatrol Health Benefits

Plant and herbal chemistry for cardiovascular health and cancer prevention.

| July/August 1997

Wine and grapes have made headlines recently because of studies showing they may help prevent cancer. Such news has led sales of both grape seed and grape skin extracts to soar, and wine taken in the name of la santé (good health) has become fashionable.

The plant chemical behind the headlines is called resveratrol. It is found in grapes and grape leaves, peanuts, mulberries, some species of eucalyptus, pine, and cypress, to name a few sources. Grape leaves are the best source of resveratrol—they are up to one hundred times richer in resveratrol than the fruits. It is believed that plants produce resveratrol to help ward off fungus.

You may already be familiar with resveratrol, because research has linked the substance and its sources, such as wine, to cardiovascular benefits. Many studies have shown that people who drink moderate amounts of wine have less heart disease than heavy drinkers and non-drinkers. This is known as the “French paradox” based on a study published in 1992 showing that the French have lower rates of coronary heart disease despite eating a fairly high-fat diet. A comparison of French and American diets shows that the French eat far less junk food and more fruits and vegetables, don’t eat between meals, eat large meals at lunch instead of dinner, and drink a few glasses of wine every day, ­especially red wine.

More recent research has looked at resveratrol and cancer. In a 1997 study, researchers reported that resveratrol inhibits the growth of cancerous cells in all three stages of the disease—stage one, when tumors are initiated; stage two, when the growth of cancer cells is promoted; and stage three, when uncontrolled growth of cancer cells leads to the formation of a tumor mass.

In other studies, resveratrol has been shown in cell cultures to limit cancer initiation caused by exposure to toxic chemicals and to slow the uncontrolled proliferation of leukemia cells.

In one eighteen-week study using animals, researchers applied cancer-causing chemicals to the shaved skin of 100 mice divided into 5 groups. One group received no resveratrol treatment. The other 4 groups received resveratrol in concentrations of 1, 5, 10, or 25 micromoles twice weekly and experienced a respective reduction in the number of tumors by 68, 81, 76, and 98 percent, compared with the untreated group. Similarly, the percentage of mice developing tumors decreased by 50, 63, 63, and 88 percent, respectively. The researchers observed no side effects from the resveratrol treatment.

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