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Resveratrol is a natural antioxidant compound called a phytoalexin produced by plants when they’re subjected to stress. Such stress might include exposure to harsh sunlight or attack by bugs or insects. Resveratrol is found in highest amounts in the skins of grapes and in red wine, but blueberries, pomegranate, blackberries, raspberries and peanuts also contain modest quantities of this natural compound.

Considerable interest in resveratrol was garnered after animal studies demonstrated its health benefits. In cell cultures and in animals, resveratrol stops the growth of cancer cells. It also reduces inflammation in blood vessels, improves blood vessel function and keeps platelets from clumping together to form clots that could lead to a heart attack or stroke. As a result, some scientists believe resveratrol protects against heart disease and may at least partially explain the heart-healthy benefits of red wine. Other research suggests that resveratrol may protect against health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. This may be due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. In animals, it lowers insulin levels and body weight.

Another intriguing finding about resveratrol is it activates a pathway known to be activated with calorie restriction. Research shows that calorie restriction prolongs life and delays aging in a number of animal species from fruit flies to primates. The hope is that resveratrol has similar benefits to calorie restriction and may help to prolong life in humans and animals. Research is ongoing to see if resveratrol has similar effects in humans. Recently, a study in humans showed that resveratrol improves exercise performance by boosting endurance and strength.

Because it is an antioxidant that protects cells against oxidative damage and a compound that reduces inflammation, resveratrol appears to offer anti-aging skin benefits. Oxidative damage primarily due to sun exposure is one mechanism by which skin ages. Free radicals produced by exposure to oxygen and sunlight damage collagen and activate enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, another protein important for youthful skin. Research suggests that resveratrol is a more potent antioxidant than idebenone, a potent pharmaceutical antioxidant. That’s why some manufacturers of cosmetic and skin care products are adding resveratrol to their products. You can find resveratrol in facial moisturizers, eye creams and other anti-aging products.

According to a small study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, resveratrol may be beneficial for treating acne too. Participants who applied a gel containing resveratrol to one side of their face and a placebo cream to the other showed a 66.7 percent reduction in acne lesions on the resveratrol side. Of course, it works best when combined with a comprehensive acne treatment program.

Is resveratrol safe? There are some concerns about taking resveratrol supplements orally, especially for women who have had breast cancer or are at high risk for the illness, until more is known. Resveratrol has estrogen-like properties that may stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent breast cancer cells. In some studies, resveratrol slows down the growth of breast cancer cells, while others show it stimulates them. The effects seem to vary with the dose. In quantities found in skin care and anti-aging products, resveratrol appears to be safe. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database classifies it as a low-hazard cosmetic ingredient.

Always apply a sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or greater that blocks both UVA and UVB rays when wearing skin products that contain resveratrol as one study shows that people may be more susceptible to sun damage when regularly using products containing resveratrol.

All in all, resveratrol is an exciting natural compound that may have anti-aging benefits for skin and other health benefits as well. Expect to see more research on this compound found in red wine in the future.