Writers frequently mention resveratrol for its favorable health effects. For example, it is one explanation for the French paradox – eating a diet high in saturated fats with a lower than expected incidence of cardiovascular disease. Subsequently, resveratrol is the subject of multiple studies. The studies include its use as a natural substance in food included in the diet, as well as its use as a separate isolated molecule.
As a consequence, the studies discovered multiple different actions within the cell for resveratrol. For instance, resveratrol is an antioxidant. But it remains unknown how much of its action is as a direct antioxidant, and how much is due to an indirect effect. Especially important is the discovery of one of its major mechanisms of action. Similar to the mechanisms of other molecules discussed here, it activates potassium channels.
Resveratrol Protects Heart Cells
Specifically relevant is a recent study (1) looking at how resveratrol prevents injury of heart muscle cells after they are exposed to conditions similar to a heart attack. Researchers gave resveratrol two different ways. In the first way, they gave resveratrol during the full duration of the heart attack. In the second way, researchers gave resveratrol only after the heart attack occurred.
As a result, resveratrol protected the heart cells in both cases. It reduced the amount of injury to the cells. It improved the ability of the heart to contract. And it increased the amount of a molecule that aids survival of the heart cells.
Additionally, the study looked at potential mechanisms for providing these benefits. As a consequence, it found two potential mechanisms. The first mechanism was resveratrol suppression of the level of free radicals. The second mechanism was resveratrol activation of potassium channels.
However, it is difficult to separate these two mechanisms. Other posts on this website discuss how suppression of free radicals occurs when the potassium channels that send potassium into the mitochondria are activated. Generally, activation of potassium channels suppresses free radicals. 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 in the mitochondria to protect the cells.
In summary, one of the major health benefits of red wine is its high potassium sodium ratio. Of course, this does not mean that it can be drunk in large amounts. The effect of too much alcohol will counteract the beneficial effect of the ratio. Too much alcohol becomes detrimental overall. 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.