Resveratrol has been frequently mentioned for its favorable health effects. It is one explanation offered for the French paradox – eating a diet high in saturated fats with a lower than expected incidence of cardiovascular disease. Multiple studies have been the done on resveratrol both when it is included in the diet as a natural substance in food and as a separate isolated molecule. It has multiple different actions within the cell. It is an antioxidant, but how much of its action is as a direct antioxidant and how much is due to an indirect effect is not known. One of its major mechanisms of action is similar to the mechanisms of other molecules that we have discussed. It activates potassium channels.
A recent study (1) looked specifically at how resveratrol can prevent injury of heart muscle cells after they were exposed to conditions similar to a heart attack. They gave the resveratrol under two conditions. The first condition was to give resveratrol during the full duration of the heart attack simulation. The second condition was to only give resveratrol after the heart attack simulation. In both cases resveratrol protected the heart cells. It reduced the amount of injury to the cells, improved the ability of the heart to contract, and increased the amount of a molecule that aids survival of the cells.
The study looked at potential mechanisms for providing these benefits. It found two potential mechanisms. One mechanism was that it suppressed the level of free radicals. Another was that it activated potassium channels. In other posts we've discussed how suppression of free radicals occurs when the potassium channels into the mitochondria are activated. It is difficult to separate these two mechanisms. Also, the more that potassium is available, the more likely that an appropriate amount of potassium will be inside of the mitochondria to prevent cell death.
Potassium Channel Helpers
Thus resveratrol is similar to polyunsaturated fats, flavonoids, and other polyphenols. They all help potassium channels to move potassium to its appropriate position to protect the cells.
One of the major health benefits of red wine is its high potassium sodium ratio. This of course does not mean that it can be drunk in large amounts. The effect of too much alcohol will counteract and then exceed the beneficial effect of the ratio. Even with the additional boost provided by resveratrol and polyphenols, red wine should be limited to 1 to 2 glasses a day.
1. The red wine antioxidant resveratrol prevents cardiomyocyte injury following ischemia-reperfusion via multiple sites and mechanisms. Goh S, Woodman OL, Pepe S, Cao AH, Qin C, Ritchie RH. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2007 Jan;9(1):101-13.