Resveratrol: Health Benefits Vs. Side Effects

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by Nils Osmar. February 6, 2022

We get a lot of questions in the Facebook “Longevity and Anti-Aging Group” along the lines of: “Should people taking NMN or NR?” or “Is it good to take resveratrol?” or “Is AKG a good anti-aging supplement?” Each of these, of course, is a separate discussion.

The purpose of the group isn’t to try to convince others to use supplements (or not use them). It’s to present information so that people can make their own decisions. When it comes to what we “should” be taking, there’s no universal agreement. We each have to follow our own judgement about whether to take any given supplement (or take supplements at all).

What About Resveratrol?

One supplement that people often raise questions about is resveratrol. There has been lot of discussion about it in the group, and the surveys we’ve done in the past suggest that the great majority people in the group do take it and consider to be a legitimate anti-aging supplement. But it does have some side effects it’s important to be aware of. They’re dose-depedent, as I’ll describe in more detail below.

Health Benefits of Resveratrol Include:

David Sinclair Weighs In

  • According to Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School, resveratrol works in conjunction with NAD (nicotinamide adenine denucleotide) to activate the sirtuin genes, facilitating DNA repair and increasing cellular energy.
  • It may or may not help people live longer; there’s not a lot of evidence that it does; but there is strong evidence that it increases health-span.

May Detoxify Nitrates in Meat

One interesting study suggests that adding resveratrol made from Japanese Knotweed (along with some other natural ingredients) to processed meats offset the cancer risk caused by nitrites.

  • According to this 2021 study, adding Japanese knotweed (a source of resveratrol), along with some other natural ingredients, to processed meat also “reduces the creation of compounds in the body that are linked to cancer.” (The association with cancer is related to the nitrites added to processed meat.)
  • The addition of these ingredients appears to protect against cancer even when the red meat still contained nitrite

From the Article About Nitrates:

  • (Japanese knotweed), feared by homeowners for its ability to invade gardens and buildings, contains a chemical which could take the place of the nitrite preservative in cured meats such as bacon and sausages.
  • In a paper published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, the international team of scientists have tested the specially formulated products against conventionally processed red meat as well as white meat.
  • They found that tell-tale signs of nitrite content in participants’ feces were significantly lower from both specially formulated meats, and levels were like those who were fed on minimally processed white meat.
  • The ongoing worries about highly processed red meat have often focused on the role of nitrite, and its links with cancer.
  • The PHYTOME project tackled the issue by creating processed red meat products that replace additives with plant-based alternatives.
  • “Our latest findings show that using natural additives in processed red meat reduces the creation of compounds in the body that are linked to cancer.
  • “Surprisingly, the natural additives seemed to have some protective effects even when the red meat still contained nitrite. This suggests that natural additives could be used to reduce some of the potentially harmful effects of nitrite, even in foods where it is not possible to take out nitrite preservatives altogether.”
  • – Gunter Kuhnle, Professor of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Reading

So Are There Side Effects?

There are some. For example, a study came out in 2021 suggesting that resveratrol could under some circumstances do damage to human cells.

This isn’t actually news; It’s actually been known for years that if you take too much resveratrol, it can be problematic. Like many polyphenols, some of its benefits come from provoking a hormetic response. Hormesis is central to sirtuin activation. The sirtuin genes are survival genes. They get activated when the body is under stress.

This is why taking cold showers; exercising hard enough to create an oxygen deficit; heat exposure; and fasting, all activate the sirtuin genes. The body senses a problem (a mild toxin, not enough food, low oxygen, too much or little heat and goes into deep-repair mode).

By its nature, hormesis is dose-dependent. If we take a cold shower (stand in the cold water for 5 minutes, our NAD levels increase, our sirtuin genes switch on, and our mitochondria start multiplying explosively, turning white fat into brown fat.) But if we get too cold for too long, we’ll freeze to death. It’s not that “cold is bad! You’ll freeze to death!” — the hormetic response makes it good for us in small doses.

So I do five minutes in a cold shower, not fifty minutes. I do HIIT exercise every other day, not all day every day. I take a half gram or gram of resveratrol, not 5 or 10 grams.

Back to the resveratrol question: I’m sure there’ll be more research soon to either verify or disprove the hypothesis that resveratrol is harmful. If it is at some point proven to do more harm than good at the tiny doses (1 gram or less) most people are taking it, I may switch sirtuin activators. But for now, I’ll be continuing to take it.

I’m not posting this to suggest that others should view it through the lens that I do; I’m just saying that the “news” that resveratrol can be harmful at high doses (around 5 grams or so, as I understand it) isn’t really that new. The “harm” resveratrol does is very likely what makes it beneficial, because it’s what makes it activate our sirtuins. But it is important not to take too large of a dose.

How Much is Too Much?

Opinions vary. But according to this study,

“Resveratrol does not appear to have side effects at short-term doses (1.0 g).

Otherwise, at doses of 2.5 g or more per day, side effects may occur, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and liver dysfunction in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [140].

“Interestingly, no major side effects were stated in long-term clinical trials [141]. In fact, resveratrol has been found to be safe and well-tolerated at up to 5 g/day, either as a single dose or as fraction of multiple-day dosing schedule [142]. However, it is imperative to mention that these studies were done in healthy populations, and that may vary in sick patients.”

What I’m Currently Doing

  • I take resveratrol several days a week, for all of the reasons above.
  • Re: the final point, I don’t eat processed meat very often. (I do eat fresh, grass fed meat from small family farms, but I try to avoid processed foods, including meat.) (Even those preserved with celery powder have been found to be high in naturally occurring nitrites.) But on the rare occasions when I decide to eat processed meat, I’ll take a little resveratrol along with the meal.
  • I plan to go on taking it, both for its anti-cancer effects and because it’s been shown in many previous studies to be an effective sirtuin activator. (There have been hundreds of studies over the years exploring resveratrol’s beneficial effects on a cellular level; the new study doesn’t negate them all, it just balances them out with more information.)
  • I have recently lowered my dose of resveratrol slightly. I actually lowered it just before the study. I was taking 0.5 grams for the past few months; recently raised it to 1 gram; and recently lowered it back to 0.5 grams. I did so mainly because I’m now taking it with olive oil, which both helps the body absorb resveratrol and is a sirtuin activator too.

For more information: Resveratrol: A Double-Edged Sword in Health Benefits

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