Caring Currents

Resveratrol Supplement and Diabetes: A New Way to Balance Blood Sugar

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The supplement resveratrol, a key ingredient in red wine and grapes, has been endlessly touted as an alternative treatment for preventing and treating many conditions. I wrote about its anti-cancer benefits in a previous post, and it's also thought to help with general anti-aging. Now experts are saying it may be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

I know from tough experience that when you or a family member has diabetes or pre-diabetes, it feels like a constant struggle -- and source of tremendous worry -- to keep blood sugar under control.

Recently, studies have suggested that taking the supplement resveratrol could be a safe and simple way to do this. Research shows resveratrol appears to boost insulin sensitivity, helping the body process sugar into energy.

The latest study, released this week, was important for people with diabetes and their families because it proved definitively that resveratrol activates sirtuins, which are proteins in the brain that have immediate control over glucose metabolism.

Research by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, the company founded by Harvard professor David Sinclair, is perhaps more exciting because it's being conducted in people and is testing resveratrol against a placebo. Last year, Sirtris released results from the first study testing resveratrol in people with diabetes, and the results were impressive: Of 98 people with diabetes studied, the 67 who took either 2.5 or 5 grams of resveratrol improved their body's ability to break down sugar significantly compared with the control group.

Because resveratrol acts to improve insulin sensitivity, it could also be a boon to those at risk for diabetes, helping them prevent the onset of the disease. Resveratrol also shows potential to block the damaging effects of glucose, preventing and treating complications of diabetes such as eye and nerve damage.

How Should I Take Resveratrol?

Previous reporting has focused on red wine as a source of resveratrol; I've even seen articles titled "red wine and diabetes." This is not the way to go, as drinking alcohol causes your blood sugar to rise, which is why people with diabetes are advised not to drink!

Instead, consider resveratrol supplements. Interestingly, the resveratrol used in much of the recent research is actually from the root of the plant Chinese knotweed, which is now being considered one of the best sources of resveratrol. (Sirtris has created a proprietary synthetic formulation of resveratrol, but it won't be available anytime soon; the company is following the slow and painstaking FDA approval process to bring a diabetes drug to market, and Sinclair says 2012 is the earliest they'll get there.)

Meanwhile, many people are already betting that you can get the same results by taking one of the resveratrol supplements available at your local health food store. Look for one with 1000 milligrams of resveratrol, the amount most commonly touted by alternative health experts.

There's still an awful lot we don't know about how resveratrol works. Sirtris's proprietary drug is a time-release formula, which is important because studies have shown resveratrol levels in the blood decline quickly. So if you want the full benefits found in resveratrol research, some alternative health experts are suggesting that you take resveratrol supplements several times a day, to mimic the effects of a time-release formulation. Three 1000 mg resveratrol pills would be the equivalent of 3 grams, putting you within the ball park of the dosage used by the Sirtris trial. If you took them morning, noon and night, you'd get a reasonable time-release effect.

Who Shouldn't Take Resveratrol?

The effects of resveratrol aren't completely understood, and some experts have warned that taking a lot all at once could cause unexpected drops in blood sugar. So there's another reason not to take one big dose all at once. Also, resveratrol has estrogenic properties, so some experts say women with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer shouldn't take resveratrol.

The American Diabetes Association ran a long article on resveratrol a few months ago in their Forecast, in which they basically say more study is needed, but there doesn't appear to be much of downside to experimenting with resveratrol, as long as you follow the basic guidelines I mention above.