From supplements to smoothies to skin care products, antioxidants are making their presence felt everywhere …. and how! Every now and then you hear of a new “superfood” on the block, which claims to be the next big thing thanks to its rich antioxidant content.
CoQ10, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, lycopene, beta-carotene and glutathione (the master anti-oxidant as we call it), are all familiar anti-oxidants and extensively studied for their ability to prevent chronic diseases, keep a check on inflammation and fight ageing. And not to mention that antioxidants help keep your skin looking forever young and supple.
In this fascinating world of anti-oxidants, resveratrol too is being championed for its anti-ageing properties. Does it really hold the key to everlasting youth? While this might be an exaggeration, studies do suggest that resveratrol has some unique properties that might restore good health and help you live a healthy, quality life.
Let’s take a closer look at resveratrol to check if resveratrol could really reverse the effects of ageing, or at least delay it.
Resveratrol: Key to everlasting youth?
Resveratrol is a polyphenol, mostly found in the skin of grapes, berries, peanuts and dark chocolate.
It is naturally produced by some plants in response to a fungal infection, excessive exposure to UV radiation or shortage of nutrients. This polyphenol helps plants to survive, sustain and fix damage under such stressful situations.
Studies show that resveratrol might offer similar health benefits in human beings. So, what makes resveratrol useful as an anti-ageing antioxidant? This boils down to the role of free radicals in causing early, untimely cellular ageing and how antioxidants like resveratrol prevent and repair the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
1. Antioxidant support
You will eventually age. Your organs won’t function as well as they used to, causing weak immunity and onset of chronic ailments. There are many theories on how and why you age, and among these the “free-radical theory of ageing” takes the lead.
Free radicals are highly unstable structures, notorious for their ability to cause damage to your cells and tissues. You can’t escape free radicals. These trouble mongers are naturally produced when your body converts food into energy or fights germs. Believe it or not, your immune cells produce strong free radicals to wipe off deadly micro-organisms. Free radicals also play an important role in how your cells communicate with each other, sense their environment and respond accordingly. What’s more, free radicals make the heart work efficiently during short-term stress.
However, free radicals are also produced when you smoke and drink too much, use drugs, or when you are exposed to pollutants, pesticides and heavy metals, consume processed food and overuse medications and antibiotics. Chronic emotional and physical stress also create free radicals in the body.
Excessive production of these free radicals is a dangerous thing because they are structurally unstable molecules. They have one or more unpaired electrons, which makes free radicals very reactive and hungry for ‘an extra electron’ to settle down. They react with nearby cells to take away their electron. This is known as oxidation, a process that renders the “attacked” cells unstable.
Free radicals, thus, cause oxidative damage to cells and their membranes, lipids, enzymes, mitochondria and DNA by stealing their electrons and causing a change to their chemical structure and function. Oxidative damage to your cells affects the functions of tissues and organs – leading to unwanted immune responses and inflammation. Ageing and chronic ailments soon follow.
Studies strongly associate oxidative damage and inflammation with premature ageing and the development of many degenerative conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, cataracts and all kinds of autoimmune disorders.
As an antioxidant, resveratrol gives your body a much-needed support in preventing, controlling and fixing the oxidative stress induced by free radicals.
Resveratrol also maintains the levels of intracellular antioxidants, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione reductase. This helps to protect the mitochondria and tissues against the damaging effects of free radicals.
That’s not all. Resveratrol does something else too in the body, which sets it apart from its other anti-oxidants. Studies show that resveratrol activates SIRT1, one of many in the Sirtuin family of enzymes. What are Sirtuins? What role do Sirtuins play in health and ageing? Let’s explore.
2. Resveratrol activates SIRT1 (one of the Sirtuins)
Well, let’s begin with this discussion with CR (calorie restriction). What has this to do with resveratrol and sirtuins, you may ask? Well, it appears that resveratrol activates the same pathways as calorie restriction activates, thus offering anti-ageing benefits.
Ancient medicinal practices such as Ayurveda claim that eating less maintains good health and makes your live longer. Modern studies too suggest that calorie restriction – reducing your food intake but without depriving your body of essential nutrients – extends lifespan and reduces oxidative damage. 
So, how does it work? CR reduces oxidative damage by reducing the formation of free radicals. In addition, low calorie intake, for example when you are fasting, also activates sirtuins - a family of enzymes that regulate a wide range of cellular activities. This is one important mechanism through which CR delays ageing.
Here is what you need to know about Sirtuins:
- Also called SIRT2 or silent information regulator 2 proteins
- In mammals, the sirtuins family consists of 7 proteins – from SIRT1 to SIRT7.
- Sirtuins protect cells from stress and influence how cells respond to stress and lack of nutrients. These enzymes regulate genes that are involved in processes like how cells survive under stress, energy production, inflammation, oxidative stress, immune function, DNA repair and metabolism. All these processes are associated with ageing.
This 2018 review found that the anti-ageing effects of polyphenols such as resveratrol “could be due to several related mechanisms, among which are the prevention of oxidative stress, SIRT1 activation and inflammation modulation”. 
What’s more, by activating SIRT1, resveratrol also maintains the health and concentration of mitochondria, small organelles within all cells that help convert food into energy. Also known as the powerhouse of the cells, the mitochondria perform other important functions too. Along with oxidative damage, mitochondrial dysfunction also plays an important role in ageing and disease.
Resveratrol improves the number and activities of the mitochondria. Since, it promotes the production of new mitochondria and reduces the inflammatory burden on mitochondria by limiting oxidative damage, resveratrol impacts your overall health and aging pattern in a big way. Ageing mitochondria produce energy with a hefty trail of free radicals. On the other hand, young healthy mitochondria – something like a new engine – are more efficient in producing clean energy with minimum waste. This is yet another factor that contributes to resveratrol’s anti-ageing benefits.
By activating sirtuins and limiting oxidative damage, resveratrol can also help manage other conditions related to ageing such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and heart diseases.
Recent research in this field show that resveratrol may help:
- Manage type 2 diabetes as it helps improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood glucose levels 
- Treat metabolic syndrome and its associated conditions 
- Reduce arterial stiffness in people with type 2 diabetes 
- Slow the progression of dementia in people with type 2 diabetes
- Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
- Reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke as it prevents oxidation of LDL cholesterol, controls inflammation and improves endothelial function.
Resveratrol improves the availability of Nitric oxide (NO) in the endothelium, which dilates blood vessels and improves blood flow to organs and tissues like the brain and heart. Now, recent research shows that resveratrol dilates blood vessels and improves blood flow to the skeletal muscles in people with insulin resistance. This allows for better delivery and utilization of glucose in the body. 
Another recent review of available randomized controlled trials found that resveratrol reduces inflammatory markers in the body concluding that, “resveratrol supplementation significantly reduced TNF-α and hs-CRP levels. Significant improvement in inflammatory markers support resveratrol as an adjunct to pharmacologic management of metabolic diseases.” 
3. Resveratrol rejuvenates senescent cells
A study, published in the BMC Cell Biology, showed that resveratrol can rejuvenate old, senescent cells. 
As you age, there is a build-up of old and damages cells in your tissues. These cells, called senescent cells, can’t divide or function anymore. Senescent cells trigger low grade chronic inflammation in the body.
What happens is that senescent cells can’t regulate their genes, one of the reasons why your body becomes increasingly vulnerable to damage and disease as you age. Your genes contain the blueprint for making new cells. This happens with the help of messenger RNA. You have splicing factors, special proteins that help genes to do their work and build m-RNA. However, these “messenger RNA splicing factors” progressively decline as you age, which means your cells lose their ability to make m-RNA, which are needed for cellular division. Declining levels of splicing factors, with advancing age, is associated with ageing and disease.
The researchers found that using resveratrol once again switched on the splicing factors in the aging cells. RNA splicing factors also help repair telomeres and restore their length in ageing cells.
Here is a brief explanation.
One of the ways your cells lose their ability to divide further is through telomere shortening. Telomeres are the tips at the end of each DNA strand. Their main job is to prevent the loss of important genetic information during cellular division. When a cell divides, it is the telomeres that are edited, and not the main DNA. If not for telomeres, the main DNA would lose its fragment, corrupting the genetic blueprint. The loss of telomeres doesn’t matter as these protective tips have the same stretch of DNA sequence.
So, every time a cell divides, the telomeres become shorter until a situation arises where telomeres become too short to help. At this point, the cell loses its ability to divide, grow, function or rejuvenate itself anymore. In this way, gradual loss of telomeres makes the cell senescent.
The team found that switching on the splicing factors, that decline with age, reset the senescent cells in a way that they start behaving like younger cells and revive their ability to divide further. Their telomeres – that get edited as we age – become longer like in new cells.
In all, the precise mechanisms on how resveratrol rejuvenates old, non-functioning cells is not very clear. But it could be because resveratrol may:
- Increase the levels of splicing factors in senescent cells
- Increase the length of telomeres, that allows them to replicate longer
The study concluded that “This is the first demonstration that moderation of splicing factor levels is associated with reversal of cellular senescence in human primary fibroblasts. Small molecule modulators of such targets may therefore represent promising novel anti-degenerative therapies.”
- Reduces oxidative damage to cells and their mitochondria, membranes and DNA
- Triggers the production of new mitochondria, improving energy levels and reducing oxidative stress on cells
- Activates SIRT1 (Sirtuin 1), proteins that regulate various genes involved in inflammation, oxidative damage and metabolism.
- Rejuvenates aging cells and restore their ability to divide
All these mechanisms make resveratrol a tool to reduce the effects of premature ageing, reduce inflammation, improve cellular energy and maintain metabolic balance in the body – restoring healthy life with reduced burden of disease and dysfunction.
Red wine contains resveratrol. But it would take copious amounts of wine to give you the health benefit you are looking for. Too much wine or alcohol can damage your health in more ways than one. While a glass of wine may not hurt and may even have some heart healthy benefits, health experts warn of over consumption. Taking a resveratrol supplement is a much better way of getting the antioxidant and health boosting benefits of this natural and wonderful gift from nature.
- Redman et al. Metabolic Slowing and Reduced Oxidative Damage with Sustained Caloric Restriction Support the Rate of Living and Oxidative Damage Theories of Aging. Cell Metabolism. 2018
- Sarubbo et al. Effects of Resveratrol and other Polyphenols on Sirt1: Relevance to Brain Function During Aging. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018
- Zhu et al. Effects of resveratrol on glucose control and insulin sensitivity in subjects with type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2017
- Chaplin et al. Resveratrol, Metabolic Syndrome, and Gut Microbiota. Nutrients. 2018
- Can the antioxidant resveratrol reduce artery stiffness in diabetics? American Heart Association. 2017.
- Wong et al. Resveratrol Counteracts Insulin Resistance-Potential Role of the Circulation. Nutrients. 2018
- Koushki et al. Effect of Resveratrol Supplementation on Inflammatory Markers: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Clin Ther. 2018
- E Latorre et al. Small molecule modulation of splicing factor expression is associated with rescue from cellular senescence. BMC Cell Biology. 2017