Resveratrol supplements: friend or foe for heart health?

heart health

 Do an internet search for resveratrol supplements and you’ll be bombarded with ads touting claims of improved heart health, immune functioning, longevity, and weight loss. It sounds like resveratrol does it all.  But do resveratrol supplements actually deliver on these promises and especially for heart health?

The polyphenol resveratrol is naturally found in red wine, a mainstay of the Mediterranean heart-healthy way of eating. Believed to act as an antioxidant, resveratrol is red wine’s secret ingredient for improving heart health. It’s believed to promote heart health by protecting blood vessel linings, lowering levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, reducing inflammation, and preventing blood clots. The reason why red wine and heart health are synonymous is because of the “French Paradox.” It’s been noted that people living in France who drank red wine, had low rates of heart disease, even though they ate a lot of cheese, butter, and other fatty foods detrimental to heart health. The explanation for the paradox was red wine’s secret ingredients with one of them being resveratrol.

Red wine, however, is not the only food substance resveratrol can be found in. Other foods rich in resveratrol include red or dark purple (Concord) grapes, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, plums, grape tomatoes, pomegranates, and even peanuts.

Possible benefits of resveratrol supplements

Like many polyphenols or substances found in food protecting the body from damage putting you at higher risk of chronic diseases, supplement manufacturers have tried to capitalize on resveratrol’s power.

Supplements of resveratrol generally contain combinations of extracts from grape seeds, red wine, berries and Japanese knotweed which are usually listed first on the ingredient label. A possible problem of a resveratrol supplement using Japanese knotweed extract is that it contains a compound called emodin that may result in diarrhea.

What exactly are the benefits that might be gained from taking a resveratrol supplement? Here is a list of possible improvements to health from this supplement:

  • Reduced blood clotting
  • Better protection of the heart and blood vessels
  • Reduction of blood glucose levels and cholesterol
  • Reduction in pain and inflammation
  • Helps support memory and cognitive functioning possibly preventing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Possible safety risks of resveratrol supplements

Whenever taking a nutritional supplement, while many are often called “natural,” this claim does not mean they are free from any adverse reactions. Over-the-counter supplements, including herbal products, always carry a potential safety risk. The same is true for using a resveratrol supplement.

Individuals who should discuss with their doctor first before taking this supplement include:

  • Anyone on a blood thinner such as aspirin or warfarin since resveratrol can lead to bleeding problems. They may also interact with NSAID medications like ibuprofen.
  • Anyone taking carbamazepine (Tegretol) since animal studies have shown a potential for high blood levels of this medication when used with resveratrol
  • Patients who have or are at risk of developing hormone-sensitive cancer since resveratrol is a phytoestrogen with estrogen-like effects. This could stimulate certain types of cancer such as breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers.

It’s important to note that like other dietary supplements, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates supplements as food and not as drugs. This means that supplement manufacturers do not have to prove that the product is safe, pure, or what efficacy it has in what it claims to cure. Drugmakers have to oblige by those rules but supplement companies do not. This situation makes it difficult for consumers to know exactly if the supplement is effective.

As a consumer, it helps to know what to look for in a reputable manufacturer. Start by looking for certification stamps on the label. These stamps include USP, CL, and NSF which are considered reliable.  These insignia also tell you as a consumer that the supplement manufacturer has voluntarily had their products tested for purity but are not considered an endorsement of safety or efficacy.

Which are best:  Food sources or supplements of resveratrol?

When it comes to nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or polyphenols like resveratrol, the top, and best choice is food sources in your diet. Your body will absorb nutrients best from food and work more synergistically along with other nutrients within the food.

It’s also recommended to speak to your doctor first before taking any supplement like resveratrol. Discuss the potential side effects weighing the risk versus the benefits based on your medical history or medications you take.

Once you’ve done your research, from there, you can make the right decision for yourself and your heart health.

Resveratrol supplements: friend or foe for heart health?
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi