Have you ever heard of the term French Paradox? It’s a concept that explains why people in France enjoy a longer life and health span and are less vulnerable to develop coronary heart disease and obesity than people from other countries in spite of eating a fat rich, heart clogging diet.
According to the scientists, the explanation for this paradox lies in the fact that the French love their red wine. In France, people consume moderate amounts of red wine, which is known to contain resveratrol – an intriguing polyphenolic compound that helps in maintaining heart health and prolonging our life span.
In recent years, many studies have explored the role of resveratrol in preventing and slowing down the process of aging and delaying the onset of age-associated disorders such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke etc. The risk of many chronic diseases such as these increases exponentially with age.
What is Resveratrol?
Resveratrol is a fat-soluble chemical primarily found in the skin of purple and red grapes. It is also found in some berries like blueberries, mulberries, cranberries, and raspberries; in nuts, such as peanuts and pistachio; and also in green tea and chocolate.
Resveratrol is a phytoalexin, and belongs to a group of compounds called polyphenols. It is naturally produced by plants in response to injury and stress such as drought, fungal attack or excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The polyphenol protects the plant against the environmental and internal stressors.
Scientists believe that resveratrol may confer similar protective benefits to humans when they consume it. And even more interestingly, studies have shown that resveratrol holds amazing anti-aging potential. Resveratrol is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics. It is also known to support normal cell replication.
The cumulative effect of all these properties make resveratrol a powerful anti-aging compound. In fact, many studies point to the efficacy of resveratrol in protecting the body against neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity and even life-threatening disorders like myocardial infarction and cerebrovascular stroke.
How Resveratrol fights cellular ageing?
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant that scavenges free radicals and also inhibits their formation – protecting cells and tissues from oxidative damage. Resveratrol also prevents the production of certain chemicals that promote inflammation in the body.
Anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of resveratrol not only help in imparting anti-aging benefits but also play a tremendous role in promoting heart and vascular health. Resveratrol helps to prevent oxidation in the blood vessels, lower cholesterol and decrease the formation of clots – keeping incidents of heart attack and stroke at bay.
Resveratrol activates Sirtuins
While its anti-oxidant benefits are indeed remarkable, there is another fascinating function that makes resveratrol a favourite topic when it comes to discussing the science of aging.
In 2013, a study showed that resveratrol directly activates sirtuins, more specifically SIRT1 . This is one of the most important mechanisms through which resveratrol offers anti-aging effects. Sirtuins are the class of enzymes that influence and regulate several biological pathways involved in the process of ageing – including inflammation, stress resistance, mitochondrial functions, metabolism and DNA repair.
David Sinclair, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and senior author on the paper noted that, “In the history of pharmaceuticals, there has never been a drug that binds to a protein to make it run faster in the way that resveratrol activates SIRT1. Almost all drugs either slow or block them.” 
More specifically, through the activation of sirtuins, resveratrol increases the activity of mitochondria in the cells. By revving up mitochondria, resveratrol is able to recharge these energy-producing factories that begin to run down as we age.
Mitochondria are specialized cellular structures that produce every bit of energy a cell requires to perform its functions – such as replication, growth, repair and sustenance. Ironically, the same energy generation process also results in the formation of reactive oxygen species or free radicals – known to damage cellular and mitochondrial DNA. Both oxidative damage and mitochondrial dysfunction are heavily implicated in the overall process of aging.
Resveratrol promotes mitochondrial biogenesis, which helps in generating more energy but with reduced production of free radicals and reduced oxidative damage. This, along with many intricate and complex mechanisms, contributes to improving overall health and delaying the process of aging .
Calorie restriction is a proven and widely accepted mechanism known to delay aging and promote overall health. Studies show that sirtuins are responsible for the anti-aging benefits associated with limiting the calorie intake. Resveratrol mimics the way calorie restriction improves longevity and health span in humans; that is by activating sirtuins.
- Hubbard et al. Evidence for a Common Mechanism of SIRT1 Regulation by Allosteric Activators. Science. 2013; 339 (6124): 1216.
- Harvard Medical School. “New study validates longevity pathway: Findings identify universal mechanism for activating anti-aging pathway.” ScienceDaily, 7 March 2013
- Zoltan Ungvari, William E. Sonntag, Rafael de Cabo, Joseph A. Baur, and Anna Csiszar. Mitochondrial Protection by Resveratrol. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2011