Resveratrol Supplements: What Dr Oz Won't Tell You, Part 2

Manufacturers of resveratrol supplements have enjoyed a field day of scientific literature on resveratrol in the last 10 years. Literally thousands of papers have come out studying the effects of resveratrol in cells-- skin cells, cancer cells, neurons, kidney cells, fat cells. You name it, some poor graduate student has thrown resveratrol at it, measured an effect, and wrote the findings up for the literature.

Are these studies wrong? Well, that's a tough call. Many of the studies and science are probably quite sound.

First, let's get to the part that's wrong. This is new. Resveratrol has been touted as an activator of a class of proteins called sirtuins that are associated with increased longevity. Hence, resveratrol as the new, age-defying drug.

What's the problem? Well, scientists at Amgen just figured out that it's not true. Sirtuins may be associated with extending the lives of yeast and worms (seriously, that's the level of biology we're working with here). But the Amgen team realized that resveratrol actually doesn't activate sirtuins (1).

OK, so scientific blunders aside, resveratrol has been shown to alter cellular metabolism in profound ways. There are hundreds of papers on this topid. The real question here is not whether they are correct. A better question is this: are these studies relevant? Probably not.

The fallacy of most resveratrol science comes down to two facts:

1. Resveratrol shows cellular activity at micromolar concentrations

2. Cells don't have livers, you do. Most cells in your body are never exposed to micromolar concentrations of resveratrol.

Huh? That's right. When you eat resveratrol supplements, what happens next? It gets absorbed and passes through the portal vein into the liver, where >99% of it is chewed up immediately. Literally (2,3).

So if the liver beats the living daylights out of your resveratrol supplements, what does it mean when someone covers isolated cells with gobs of resveratrol? Nothing. In your body, your cells will never see that much resveratrol. You have a circulation system and a liver that was designed to make sure that never happens.

What about all that science showing resveratrol with potent health benefits (4)? Most of it is based on concentrations (in the micromolar range) that are impossible to achieve in the human body. Just to be clear: the effects that are observed in resveratrol experiment with cell culture are probably real. They just aren't realistic for resveratrol supplements.

That message may be disappointing, but there is some hope here. If the test tube experiments don't make sense, then we need a better test tube. How about a furry little one with ears and whiskers?

Click here to learn about the mice that saved resveratrol supplements.

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1. Beher, D, Wu, J, Cumine, S, et al. "Resveratrol is not a direct activator of SIRT1 enzyme activity." Chem Biol Drug Design. (2009) Epub Oct 20.
2. Walle, T, Hsieh, F, DeLegge, MH, Oatis, JE, et al. "High absorption but very low bioavailability of oral resveratrol in humans." Drug Metab Dispos. 32 (2004) 1377-82.
3. Boocock, DJ, Faust, GES, Patel, K. "Phase I dose escalation pharmacokinetic study in healthy volunteers of resveratrol, a potential cancer chemopreventative agent." Cancer Epidem Biomark Prev 16 (2007) 1246-52.
4. Marques, FZ, Markus, MA, Morris, BJ. "Resveratrol: Cellular actions of a potent natural chemical that confers a diversity of health benefits." Int J Biochem Cell Biol. (2009) EPub Jun 13.