Resveratrol, a phytoalexin produced by plants as a reaction to a fungus, can be found in a variety of foods. It is most commonly found in the skins of black and red grapes and its consumption is believed to offer health benefits to humans. Specifically, muscadine grapes, the common grapevine native to the Mediterranean region, and the fox grape, native to the Eastern United States, contain the most resveratrol. Resveratrol can also be found in other foods such as peanuts and mulberries and it is also found in common plants such as eucalyptus, spruce and lilies.
It should be noted that there is significant debate within the scientific community surrounding the benefits of resveratrol. The debate specifically centers on consumption. Although many scientists are in agreement that resveratrol has benefits, they disagree on whether the substance should be obtained through diet or by ingesting concentrated forms such as capsules.
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Scientists who advocate natural consumption of resveratrol point to the French as an example. Often referred to as the French Paradox, the French people consume a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fat, including items such as cheese and butter. However, the French have low rates of heart disease, which many scientists contribute to the regular consumption of red wine, which contains a fair amount of resveratrol. Additionally, the long-term effects of ingesting large amounts of resveratrol in a concentrated form are not known.
In addition to decreasing the risk of heart disease, the benefits of resveratrol that are most often cited include anti-initiation, anti-promotion and anti-progression activity in cancer. Resveratrol’s anti-initiation activity includes acting as an antioxidant and an anti-mutagen. Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of molecules in the human body, which prevent the creation of free radicals. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which is believed to contribute to the onset of a large variety of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Resveratrol acts as an anti-mutagen by prohibiting normal cells from mutating into abnormal cancer cells.
In regard to the anti-promotion of cancer, it is believed that resveratrol inhibits an enzyme that causes cancer tumors to grow. Resveratrol’s anti-progression properties include inhibiting the production of an enzyme that is needed for DNA production in cells. Other non-carcinogenic benefits of resveratrol include claims for increasing fat loss, decreasing insulin resistance and producing anti-inflammatory effects. Resveratrol is also believed to be an anti-aging substance because it activates sirtuin proteins that are responsible for repairing DNA and regulating genes that change with age.