The search for the mythical fountain of youth may have ended with Ponce de Leon, but millions of us hold out hope that science will discover the secret to beat aging, the special formula that will keep our skin, and our insides, from displaying the wear and tear of our years.
So we scour the media for news of the latest studies and claims that this or that compound or herb can slow the aging process and improve both our appearance and quality of life. One recent source of optimism has been resveratrol, a chemical compound found in some foods and drinks many of us already consume. An antioxidant of the group known as polyphenols, resveratrol is plentiful in the skins and peels of grapes, berries and certain other fruits. It is found in both white and red wine, but in much greater quantity in red varieties.
Multiple studies, all on mice, have shown that resveratrol may have a number of heart-healthy benefits, such as preventing damage to blood vessels, decreasing clots, lowering cholesterol, hindering inflammation and warding off stroke. But some of the most intriguing research is focused on its potential as a general anti-aging agent.
How It Works
New research seems to confirm the theory that, by stimulating the cellular proteins known as sirtuins, can promote longer cell life in the body. Researchers had previously found that resveratrol, among other natural and synthetic compounds, appeared to stimulate the proteins. But they did not know exactly how it did so or how to incorporate the compound into potential anti-aging treatments.
The new findings, from a group led by Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School, a member of the team that originally discovered resveratrol’s effect on sirtuins in 2003, observed that the compound stimulated the proteins directly. Specifically, resveratrol appears to help increase the activity of mitochondria, which produces energy within cells, potentially extending their lives.
The study’s conclusions could open the door for research into resveratrol-mimicking drugs that could inhibit conditions common to aging, including heart disease, cognitive decline and even type 2 diabetes. “Now that we know where and how resveratrol works,” Sinclair said in a statement, “we can engineer even better molecules that more precisely and effectively trigger its effects.”
The research is encouraging, but unfortunately, you can’t just down a bowlful of grapes every now and then to receive those anti-aging benefits. Some experts suggest that if one relied on red wine alone to gain the lasting effects found in studies of mice and rats, it would require drinking more than 60 liters a day.
Some marketers have made resveratrol supplements available, but they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the dosage in any particular product can vary widely, from 75 milligrams to more than 1,000 milligrams. Also, studies have not found any preventive benefit from current supplements for people already in good health.
It’s also important to check in with your doctor before taking resveratrol or any other purported anti-aging supplement. Research on humans has not yet uncovered any severe side effects, but experts believe resveratrol could limit the efficacy of some medications, like blood thinners or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs taken for arthritis and pain. The fact that resveratrol is a natural compound also limits researchers’ ability to patent it for use as a medical treatment, which is one reason why future anti-aging treatments are expected to rely on synthetic versions.
Skin Aging and Resveratrol
Oxidative stress is known to contribute to skin aging. Free radicals are produced as we age naturally and by extrinsic factors such as ultraviolet light, pollution and cigarette smoking.9 Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in cells where they damage lipid membranes, proteins and DNA. Free radicals upregulate transcription factor activator protein 1 (AP-1) that turns on the synthesis of collagen digesting matrix metalloproteinases, reduces collagen content in skin and contributes to skin wrinkling. Oxidative stress also upregulates nuclear factor kappa beta (NF-kB), increasing the synthesis of a variety of inflammatory mediators that contribute to skin aging. For these reasons, the use of topical and systemic antioxidants are of value for prevention of skin aging. Resveratrol is unique among antioxidants in that it functions as an antioxidant in several ways.10 It serves as a free radical scavenger that effectively quenches reactive oxygen species such as hydroxyl, superoxide and metal-induced radicals.
Clinical Studies on Resveratrol
There are few published studies on topical resveratrol. In a comparative study, a 1% resveratrol cream was compared to 1% idebenone cream using the standard ORAC test for antioxidant activity.15 The resveratrol cream was found to have a 17-times-greater antioxidant capacity than the idebenone product. More recently, a clinical trial on a 1% resveratrol, 1% vitamin E and 0.5% baiclin serum demonstrated improvement in a variety of parameters of skin aging, including firmness and elasticity.11 Ultrasound showed increased skin density and biomarkers revealed an increase in collagen III and hemoxygensase 1 production. These results demonstrate that high concentration of stabilized topical resveratrol can be used as an effective anti-aging ingredient.