Resveratrol is toxic — most people don’t know this. Let us explain.
This extract has been a popular supplement for several years now — but for the wrong reasons.
Early marketing of the compound highlighted its antioxidant effects, which is certainly true. But there’s something else trans-resveratrol offers that far outcompetes these other compounds as a longevity-enhancing supplement.
Resveratrol triggers a response in the body called hormesis — triggering what we can call “beneficial stress” on the body. The results are profound, offering direct benefits on the cardiovascular system, cancer prevention, and longevity.
Here, we’ll explain how resveratrol works, and why you’ve been underestimating this simple grape extract for so long.
What is Resveratrol?
Resveratrol is a chemical compound extracted from fruits like grapes and Japanese knotweed. It’s considered a polyphenol, which as a class are well-known for their antioxidant effects.
Antioxidants are beneficial because they protect the cells from damaging free radical compounds produced through normal cell metabolism, and absorbed through pollution in our environment.
For a long time, antioxidants were heralded as being powerful medicinal agents. They’re touted as the answer to heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders. However, recent evidence suggests that antioxidants might not be as effective as we once thought.
Back in 2012, a Cochrane review (one of the highest quality research studies available) investigated the results of 78 research studies on antioxidants. With more than 200,000 healthy volunteers, and 80,000 people with stable diseases like cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The antioxidants they reviewed were vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene. The results showed no improvement in the lifespans of the patients in these studies, and in some cases as much as a 3% decrease in longevity .
Resveratrol has been proven time and time again to increase the lifespan of the organisms it was tested on by reducing the rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurological disorders .
We know it works, we just may have gotten how it works wrong.
Let me explain.
Resveratrol & Hormesis
Resveratrol is an antioxidant, there’s no doubt about it, but this isn’t what makes the compound so beneficial to our health.
The real benefits come from resveratrol’s ability to produce hormesis  — a process that causes mild “stress” on the body, which triggers a stronger anti-stress effect from the body. The results are an enhancement of our natural stress recovery systems throughout the body.
Geneticist David Sinclair is currently on the cutting-edge of resveratrol research for its hormetic effects and longevity-enhancing benefits of the compound. Watch his Ted talk on resveratrol here.
What Exactly is Hormesis?
Hormesis can be a difficult concept to grasp, so let’s break it down a bit further.
The process involves a minor toxic effect on the body — causing damage to the cells. The body then mounts a defense to this damage. If the initial toxic effect was only minor but triggered a strong reaction from the body, we end up with an overall positive benefit towards our health.
Much of the benefit comes in the form of anti-inflammatory responses, and DNA repair — which is the key to the longevity-enhancing effects.
A simple example of a hormetic response is exercise. Every time we work out, we cause damage to the body, cells die, and inflammation begins. The body responds with even stronger anti-inflammatory effects and cell recovery — making us stronger, and healthier than before the workout.
The True Health Benefits of Resveratrol
Resveratrol in high doses is toxic , but in low doses offers powerful health-promotion through its hormetic effect.
Specifically, resveratrol triggers protective effects that improve body systems including:
- Endothelial cell repair (arteries and digestive tissues) 
- DNA repair 
- Digestive ulcer repair 
- Reduces inflammation 
- Anti-aging effects 
- Enhances immune activity 
- Diabetes support 
The Key is in the Dose of Resveratrol
Inducing hormesis has clear benefits on the body. The key to making this work is to take the right dose — one high enough to trigger a reaction from the body, but not strong enough to cause any lasting damage.
Fortunately, there has already been a ton of research on this. Researchers have mapped out the benefits of hormetic effects of resveratrol against its toxic effects.
Hormetic Response by Dose:
(Source: Calabrese et al., 2010)
As you can see from the diagram above, the hormetic benefits increase to a certain point, before tapering off. The key to dosing resveratrol for maximum benefit is to land in the peak of the curve.
Research has repeatedly shown this dose to be somewhere between 1 and 3 mg per kg of body weight. This means that someone who weighs 45 kg should take about 90–130 mg of resveratrol per day for maximum benefit.
Conclusion: Using Resveratrol
Resveratrol is a very useful supplement and something many people take every day to resist the effects of aging, protect the heart, and lower their chances of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or cancer.
The mechanisms resveratrol use to achieve this are controversial at best. The compound is toxic. But this isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually the very reason resveratrol is so good for us.
When we take small doses of resveratrol (50-200 mg per day), it triggers a hormetic response in the body. A defensive mechanism the body uses to protect itself from the damage caused by resveratrol that ends up doing more good than harm.
As more research is released by the likes of David Sinclair and other researchers on the cutting-edge of longevity research, you can expect to see resveratrol making a comeback as an essential health supplement.
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