Resveratrol: the Superpower

  • By Alyssa Grams
  • 01 Aug, 2017
Article by Robyn Braun, PhD

A powerful plant compound treats a range of diseases and drives one scientist to keep searching.  

Dr. Jason Dyck didn't set out to study the compound resveratrol, but now he can't get away from it. "I started out as a cardiovascular researcher. But I can't get out of resveratrol because it is effective in the treatment of almost any disease. Whenever we test it, it has tremendous benefit. I can't walk away from something that could be so beneficial," he says.

The Alberta Diabetes Foundation recently funded Dyck's study of the effects of resveratrol on blood glucose levels and insulin levels in obese and insulin-resistant animals. Dyck's research as he pursues the seemingly endless benefits of this organic compound for diabetes and other diseases. 

Resveratrol is a compound produced by some plants, including grapes, peanuts and Japanese knotweed, when they are suffering from some form of environmental stress. "When an environment is changing, plants are affected first," explains Dyck. "And under environmental stress they produce resveratrol. The thinking is that animals in the environment will consume the resveratrol in the plants, which effectively supplies them with the compound so that they can handle the environmental stress once it begins to affect them." 

The discovery of a compound that would benefit a wide spectrum of diseases was surprising. "Researchers were making plant extracts and idnetifying the components of the extract that were effective and determine what the effects were," says Dyck. "They kept fractionating plant extracts and finally identified resveratrol." The extract was then purified and scientists began to experiment with its effects. The benefits were manifold. 

Too Much Buzz

Resveratrol research received a lot of attention when researchers found trace amounts of the beneficial substance in red wine. "People thought the presence of resveratrol in red wine addressed what's called the 'French Paradox,'"explains Dyck. "The franc eat a lot of fat but have low rates of cardiovascular disease. So it was proposed that this was because they also drink a lot of red wine and resveratrol in the wine offsets the potential problems of a high fat diet."

Resveratrol is also an exercise mimetic. That is, Dyck explains, it produces some of the same effects in animal bodies as exercises. His lab published a study where it exercised two groups of rats for 12 weeks. The only difference between the groups was the one that was given resveratrol and the other was not. At the end of 12 weeks, the tea gave the mice a run to exhaustion test. The animals who had taken resveratrol performed 10 to 15 per cent better than the control animals. "To enhance a trained athlete's performance by 10 to 15 per cent for the same amount of work -- that's a big deal," exclaims Dyck.

The paper received a lot of attention and again the link was made to red wine, with headlines claiming that a glass of wine could save you a trip to the gym. "But exercise is not one molecule," explains Dyck, "It's not just one pathway. Resveratrol causes subtle changes across a spectrum of pathways and effects."

Dyck acknowledges that there are minute quantities of resveratrol in red wine but he actively distances himself from the frenzied proclamations of news outlets and social media that a glass of red wine is the equivalent of one hour in the gym, or that drinking wine regularly alleviates the need for a healthy diet. "It was funny for a while," he says of the excitement, "but it's not true and it's frustrating to see our research misused like that." 

Resveratrol in useful quantities is now available as a supplement in health food stores. One pill of 150 mg is the equivalent of 100 bottles of wine. "So it's a lot safer to take the supplements," laughs Dyck. Dyck himself takes the supplements before his runs. While he hasn't noticed a difference with his overall health, he has noticed that the supplements make his runs harder. "I would think that if it was a placebo effect I'd have found the runs easier," he muses. "I don't know for sure but maybe it's like altitude training. It's harder to train on resveratrol but you're in better shape as a result." In the short term, there have been not toxicity effects reported from the supplements, says Dyck. 


Diabetes Researchs Looks to Resveratrol

Diabetes researchers bean to experiment with resveratrol about 10 years ago and showed that, while taking resveratrol, obese animals had the glucose, blood fat and insulin levels of healthy animals even after they remained obese. "It's very clear from animal trails that resveratrol is very effective at lowering blood glucose levels," says Dyck. "But we didn't really know why."

Around the same time, research emerged that showed the focal transplants from lean animals to obese animals cause the obese mice to become lean. The results of these fecal transplants interested Dyck because he knew that, while resveratrol is effective in the treatment of many diseases, it's not found in the blood stream but passes undigested to the colon. Perhaps, he reasoned, the benefits of the fecal transplant could be enhanced with the addition of resveratrol. And they were. 

We don't know how it works exactly," says Dyck, "But the bacteria interact with the resveratrol and then secrete a new compound, which is even more effective then resveratrol on its own." The active compound created by the gut bacteria in the presence of resveratrol looks like a number of anti-diabetic compounds, Dyck says. It reduces hepatic glucose levels and increases insulin levels in the muscle. What's more, it works to regulate blood glucose faster and more profoundly than resveratrol.

Knowing the difference to effect if resveratrol on blood glucose levels and insulin uptake could explain the differences in results that researcher are seeing across different populations. "We are getting consistency good results in animal trials," explains Dyck. "But human trials show mixed results across the  populations. "We are getting consistently good results in animals trails," explains Dyck. "But human trails show mixed results across the population." For example, a study of obese insulin-resistant men showed that  resveratrol had a positive effect on their blood glucose and insulin levels, but in obese men who were not insulin-resistant, the resveratrol made no difference in their blood glucose levels. 

It could be that some populations have the gut bacteria needed to use the resveratrol and some populations do not. "Your diet changes your microflora," says Dyck. "And we know that a high fat diet will change your intestinal profile, which can contribute to insulin resistance or even worsen the condition." 

Dyck and his team are working to isolate the effective compound from the fecal material, so that it can be turned into a drug to treat everyone. But is is a slow search. "We're trying different fractions with different sizes of solubility. We're making the haystack smaller so that we can identify the needle."

Time Flies

If the success of resveratrol research to date is anything to judge by, its future is very bright. "We've made tremendous progress in the past decade. We've gone from pipefitting purified resveratrol onto cells grown in dishes through to animal trials and now we're looking at preventing damage from chemotherapy, improving the effects of chemotherapy, preventing hypertension, heart failure and diabetes," says Dyck, enumerating a few of resveratrol's benefits. Interest in resveratrol as a treatment for all kinds of disease has grown significantly,, with more and more papers published every year. 

"It's never fast enough for me, though"Dyck says. "I work because it could be a really great treatment. And a patient was not a virtue that was bestowed upon me."

#ABfoodfight

By Alyssa Grams 09 Aug, 2017

University means a fresh start. You can put anything you want behind you, and instead look forward to who you want to become. Even if you aren’t moving away from home and you are entering your first year of university, many aspects of your life will still change.

It is important to remember that with the many changes university brings, your diabetes management may have to change too. A new living situation, new stressors, and new faces can cause your health to dip. But we have 3 tips to prepare you for living with diabetes in university.

By Alyssa Grams 09 Aug, 2017

Protein is a source of endless debate. Some bodybuilders say if you’re trying to bulk up, it should be the bulk of everything you eat. Others say the power of protein is overestimated. How did we get so mixed up about a few amino acids?

The fact is, it’s an essential nutrient that keeps your body functioning well by building and repairing muscle, hormones and enzymes, as well as your skin, nails and hair. But obviously there’s some confusion so I offer this to you: a protein primer.

By Alyssa Grams 01 Aug, 2017
Article by Robyn Braun, PhD
By Alyssa Grams 25 Jul, 2017

One of the first projects funded by the Alberta Diabetes Foundation when it was founded in 1988 was the clinical research of Dr. Ray Rajotte, which it funded for 12 years. Dr. Rajotte pioneered the first-ever islet cell transplant, which was the biggest breakthrough in diabetes research since the discovery of insulin. That work, plus an expanded islet cell transplant team and the addition of anti-rejection protocol, ended up becoming the international standard of care for islet cell transplantation.

Since 2000, when the protocol was developed, Alberta Diabetes Foundation has invested in a capital campaign to build the world-class building that now houses the Alberta Diabetes Institute. Since then, the Foundation has endeavoured to continue to invest in world-class research for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes right here in Alberta.

Alberta Diabetes Foundation works in tandem with the best-in-class Alberta Diabetes Institute to allocate funding where and when it is needed most, ensuring that important diabetes research and projects do not become stalled. The Alberta Diabetes Foundation is able to fund projects, even at early stages, often filling in gaps left by traditional granting organizations. The researchers in Alberta are confident that a world without diabetes is possible and, today they are doing more than providing sustainable solutions to treating diabetes -- our researchers are on their way to a cure.

By Alyssa Grams 19 Jul, 2017
Article compiled by Breanna Mroczek  with information from Dr. Mathew Estey, Clinical Chemist and Co-Director of Chemistry at DynaLIFE Medical Labs, and Dr. Christopher Naugler, Calgary Zone Clinical Department Head, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medical Director
By Alyssa Grams 19 Jul, 2017
Post by Erika Brown
By Alyssa Grams 17 Jul, 2017

Symptoms

Imagine this. Recently you’ve noticed that your child hasn’t been acting quite like their usual self lately. You can’t quite pinpoint it, so you chalk it up to a rough week. But maybe that rough week turns into two.  You start to think on their behaviour more and you grow more concerned; they are always asking for extra water or juice at breakfast, they seem to be constantly hungry, they’re rushing off to the bathroom more frequently, and they are tired as soon as they step in the door from school.

Although these symptoms may seem common for children who may not have had a good night’s rest or for those going through puberty, that’s not always the case. These symptoms should be taken seriously, and if you notice these in your child for a prolonged period of time, you should discuss a glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test with your doctor. An A1C test will determine your child’s average blood glucose level over the past 3 months. If your child’s A1C level is 6.5 or over, if could mean that they have Type 1 diabetes.


Diagnosis

As a parent, your child’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis can be earth shattering for both you and your child. So many thoughts can go through a parent’s head; why does it have to be my child? How is my child going to live with this? How am I going to be able to give my child everything they need now that they have this condition?

Every parent and child will go through this journey in their own way, but it is important to know that Type 1 diabetes is a disease that can be managed, and proper management will allow your child to live a healthy life. As for the questions, you have as a parent, we would like to help by providing you with a few answers.


Why does my child have to be diagnosed with Type  1 diabetes? Where does Type 1 diabetes come from? What could wehave done as parents to prevent it?

Type 1 diabetes is not a preventable disease. It is a mixture of genes and environment. Although scientists do not know the exact cause of Type 1 diabetes , they do know that genes and environment play a role . They have figured out that individuals who have a certain type of HLA complex (human leukocyte antigen on chromosome 6) may be susceptible to Type 1 diabetes. This complex can create an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by a viral infection.

Simply put, when your body tries to fight the viral infection, it may also attack beta cells in your pancreas—cells that make insulin. This process usually takes several years before symptoms develop. The right combination of genes (HLA complex) and environment (exposure to a viral infection) can contribute to the onset of type 1 diabetes.


How is my child going to live with this condition?

Diabetes will be a day-to-day change in you and your child’s life. Your child will require insulin injections. You might even be required to administer insulin injections for your child depending on recommendations from the doctor. You will also want to revaluate the lifestyle that you and your child live. Focus primarily on the diet and exercise your child gets. And remember to stay on top of these few daily tasks you will need to complete:

  • Administering insulin
  • Monitoring blood glucose
  • Making sure that your child is eating a healthy, balanced diet with diabetic guidelines (incorporating things like carb counting can help to manage blood glucose levels)
  • Ensuring that your child is getting exercise on a daily basis (involving them in two sports can mean practice up to four days per week and games on weekends)

Although it may not happen everyday, your child will go through highs and lows with their diabetes. Both diabetic highs and lows are serious and can be life threatening

Symptoms of a diabetic high and low are:

  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision

Symptoms of a diabetic low also include:

  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Paleness
  • Shaking

You and your child’s first encounter with can be frightening. If you prepare yourself to know that symptoms and you are able to react accordingly, you can make your child feel safer in the earlier stages of this condition.


How am I going to be able to provide everything my child with everything they need to take this condition on?

The biggest change a parent can have on their child’s life is setting a great example. Your child relies on you and looks up to you. As a parent you should eat healthy, exercise, and take on proper responsibility for your own health. Your own accountability will benefit your child in the short-term and long-term. Additional support from friends and family will also help your child manage emotional and physical effects of the diabetes diagnosis. You may also consider joining a diabetes support group or participating in a run to fund diabetes research.

Advice from the following people can help ease the stress of your child’s diabetes:

  • An endocrinologist
  • A pharmacist
  • A nurse
  • A certified diabetes educator
  •  A registered dietitian
  •  An eye doctor
  • A dentist
  • A community of those who have children with Type 1 diabetes

As a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is simply to be there for them. Communicate with your child in a way that is supportive and will help to boost their self-esteem. Allowing your child to be open and honest with you will make treating diabetes that much easier.

No parent wants to see their children suffer. Remember that diabetes was not something that your child was marked for, and it isn’t your fault as a parent. As a family, you can work through this disease together, and put your child down a path of success.

By Alyssa Grams 10 Jul, 2017

Article by Breanna Mroczek. Photography by Darren Greenwood Photography.

By Carmen Johnson 04 Jul, 2017

You’ve seen the ads: “Cut out bananas and banish belly fat forever.” It seems like the world is going bananas over a simple piece of fruit.

It’s a bit strange. They’re almost identical in carbs to a delicious pear, but nobody seems to be preaching safe pear practice. So why do bananas get a bad rap? Why do people suddenly find them so un a-peel-ing?

Don’t be Split on Bananas

Many have tried to bruise the banana’s reputation by spreading the rumour that they’re loaded with carbs and sugar, instantly leading to weight gain and sending your blood sugars into a spiral. This is nothing more than a far-fetched fruit fallacy.

For one, at just 105 calories, a medium banana puts a mere 5% dent in a 2,000-calorie diet ( 1 ). Yes, bananas do contain starch and sugar, which does cause blood sugars to rise, but that doesn’t mean you should steer clear! First off, our bodies need carbs to function. Second, there is a world of difference between the sugar  in fruit and that found in pop, cake or candy. Unlike sweets, bananas are rich in naturally-occurring sugar, plus 3.5 grams of fibre and a ton of nutrients needed for good health.

Bet on Bananas

Fibre—like that found in bananas—is essential for weight and blood sugar management. It helps prevent overeating by making you feel full for longer. It also helps to slow the absorption of sugar. Just-ripe bananas and other carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and insulin levels ( 3 ).

Another boast for the banana is that it packs, on average, more than 400 milligrams of heart-healthy potassium . That’s almost 10% of your recommended daily intake! Potassium is vital for normal muscle, nerve and brain function and is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure .

Since many Canadians may not be getting enough potassium in their diet ( 2 ), bananas are a tasty way to up your daily dose

Go Bananas!

Still think bananas are to blame for all your weight woes? Here’s the truth: No one food is responsible for the number on the scale.

A diet high in fibre-rich fruits and vegetables —including bananas—is a key ingredient for a healthy body weight and reduced risk of chronic disease.

Bananas are a carbohydrate-rich food. If you're watching your blood sugars, be mindful of your portions. Otherwise, there's no monkey business when it comes to bananas. Unless you have been told to limit them by your doctor, there’s no reason to shun this simple fruit.

Some tasty tips to enjoy bananas:

  • Use mashed ripe bananas to boost the flavour and nutrition in your favourite muffin recipes.
  • Freeze overripe bananas for smoothies or baking.
  • Add chopped banana to your oatmeal while it’s cooking. This releases natural sugars so you can cut back on added sweeteners.
  • Roll up a banana with some protein-rich nut butter in a whole grain tortilla for an easy breakfast on the run.

For a healthy version of your favourite summer treat make sure to check out the Breakfast Banana Splits  recipe in the P ure Prairie Eating Plan   Cookbook.

 

References

1) Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File (2015). Banana, raw . Accessed June 7, 2017 from https://food-nutrition.canada.ca/cnf-fce/serving-portion.do?id=119

2) Health Canada, Food and Nutrition (2012). Do Canadian Adults Meet Their Nutrient Requirements Through Food Intake Alone? Accessed June 7, 2017 from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/surveill/nutrition/commun/art-nutr-adult-eng.php

3) University of Sidney, Glycemic Index Database (2017). Banana, raw. Accessed June 7, 2017 from http://www.glycemicindex.com/index.php

 

By Alyssa Grams 04 Jul, 2017
Based on guidelines from Diabetes Canada. Illustration by Breanne Kelsey.
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