Resveratrol and Plant Sterols: Nutritional Precaution for Heart Health

Article By Michelle Honda Ph.D.

To ensure optimal nutrition, many people today are supplementing for general health as a nutritional precaution; another way to provide health insurance. To establish assurance that the body is well stocked with vital nutrition, daily supplementation has become just as important as eating right.

Both men and women have essential needs in preventing and reducing the risk factors for heart disease. Common vascular concerns include hypertension, arrhythmia, blood clotting, plaque build-up, cholesterol, triglycerides, homocysteine, oxidative and free radial damage.

The following will explain the mechanisms by which Resveratrol and Phytosterols work their magic to strengthen and revitalize the cardiovascular system in the area of cholesterol and heart disease.

In praise of research, studies abound today on the health sustaining compounds that plants have to offer. Receiving a great deal of attention are the phytosterols (plant fats) and resveratrol (antioxidant), in the area of their enormous cardiovascular support.

What exactly is Resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a phenolics compound possessing strong antioxidant properties. Some plants produce resveratrol in response to environmental stressors involving injury, fungal and insect infection, ultraviolet and radiation. Resveratrol is a fat soluble compound, first noticed by scientists when its presence was found in red wine. Speculation rose among researchers wondering if this was the key element as to the explanation of the “French Paradox” in the area of cardiovascular disease. In addition to being cardio protective, intense interest of this antioxidant prevails following significant studies for its anti-aging and anticancer properties. (1)

Benefits of Resveratrol

Resveratrol inhibits vascular cell adhesion
Atherosclerosis is now viewed as an inflammatory disease directly associated with myocardial infraction (heart attack). One of the precursors to developing atherosclerosis is the accumulation of inflammatory white blood cells, adhering to the arterial wall by “vascular cell adhesion molecules”. Resveratrrol has been shown to inhibit the manifestation of adhesion molecules in studies and assists in preventing blood vessel damage. (2)

Inhibits Platelet Aggregation
Platelets are part of our blood matrix, essential for the clotting process when blood vessels are ruptured or their lining is injured. However when they group together and form a mass this is one of the first steps in the formation of a blood clot that can obstruct a coronary or cerebral artery, resulting in myocardial infraction or stoke. Resveratrol has been found to inhibit platelet aggregation. (3)

Reduces Homocysteine levels
Research indicates a definite risk factor of a heart attack surrounding high levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid derivative found in our body but too much of it can generate free radials associated with injury to arterial walls, accelerating oxidation and increases the cholesterol levels in the blood vessels all of which set the stage for cardiovascular disease and stroke.(4)

Promotes Arterial Relaxation
An enzyme (eNOS) that initiates the formation of Nitric Oxide (NO) by vascular endothelial cells is required to maintain arterial relaxation (Vasodilation) and consequently lowers blood pressure. When nitric oxide is inhibited or a decrease occurs, we then become susceptible to impaired vasodilation, associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. (5)

Cardiac Fibrosis
Research at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Ohio State University indicates that resveratrol has direct inhibitory action on cardiac fibroblasts and may inhibit the progression of cardiac fibrosis. (6)

Food Sources

Resveratrol is found in the acai berry, Japanese knotweed, grapes, wine, grape
juice, raspberries, plums, peanuts and berries of Vaccinum species including
blueberries, bilberries, lingonberry and cranberries. (7)

Plant Sterols, Cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease

Phytosterols and stanols are natural compounds found in the membranes of plants. These constituents are present in fruit, seeds, nuts, legumes, vegetables and other natural extracts. Plant fats resemble the structure of animal cholesterol. Cholesterol is naturally manufactured by our bodies through liver synthesis. Plant sterols and stanols are obtained though dietary sources. For more than fifty years, studies have taken place on the cholesterol lowering benefits of plant fats in the diet.

Studies suggest that when plant sterols are present, the body absorbs less cholesterol. These lipid constituents compete with cholesterol for absorption in the body. In addition to the ability of plant sterols/stanols to block cholesterol absorption, there are special proteins that line the small intestine called “ATP cassette transporters”. These proteins reduce cholesterol by pumping absorbed plant fats back into the gut. The absorption rate of plant sterols in comparison to dietary cholesterol shows direct contrast. Less than 5% of dietary phytosterols are systemically absorbed compared to 50-60% of dietary cholesterol. (9)

A typical protocol for people with high blood cholesterol levels is to consume a diet high in fibre and low in saturated fat along with a safe exercise program. Although this advice can be affective in some cases, often times other interventions may be needed including natural cholesterol lowering supplements and/or the addition of phytosterols/stanols to the diet.

Heart Disease (CHD-Coronary Heart Disease) Health Claim

Foods containing at least 0.4g per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day
with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8g as part of a diet low in
saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. (10)

Other health association recommends consuming plant sterols

Foods containing at least 0.4g per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day
with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8g as part of a diet low in
saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. (10)

Plant sterols or stanols in conjunction with Cholesterol lowering inhibitors (statins)

The results of controlled clinical trials suggest that consumption of 2-3g/d of plant sterols or stanols by individuals on statin therapy may result in an additional 7-11% reduction in LDL cholesterol which is an effect comparable to doubling the statin dose. (11)

Many studies across the board show the benefits of incorporating resveratrol and phytosterols into a daily eating plan. Their combined cholesterol lowering capabilities and powerful antioxidant action will not only enhance our quality of life through disease prevention but also extend our longetivity.

1 Boocock DJ, Faust GE, Patel KR, et al. Phase I dose escalation pharmacokinetic study in healthy volunteers of resveratrol, a potential cancer chemo preventive agent. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2007;16(6):1246-1252.
2 De la Lastra CA, Villegas I. Resveratrol as an anti-inflammatory and anti-agent: mechanisms and clinical implications. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005;49(5):405-430.
3 Kirk RI, Deitch JA, Wu JM, Lerea KM. Resveratrol decreases early signaling events in washed platelets. Blood Cells Mol Dis. 2000;26(2): 144-150.
4 Dixion JB. Dixon ME. O’Brien PE. Reduced plasma homocysteine in obese red wine consumers: a potential contributor to reduced cardiovascular risk status. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002 Jul;56(7):608-614
5 Duffy SJ, Vita JA. Effects of phenolics on vascular endothelial function. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2003;14(1):21-27.
6 Olson ER, Naugle JE, Zhang X, Bomser JA< Meszaros JG. Inhibition of cardiac fibroblast proliferation and myofibroblast differentiation by resveratrol. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol 2005 Mar; 288(3):H1131-8.
7 Rimando AM, Kalt W, Mages JB Dewey J, Ballington JR. Resveratrol. pterostilbene, and piceatannol in vaccinium berries. J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52(15):4713-4719.
8 FDA Letter Regarding Enforcement Discretion with respect to expanded use of an Interim Final Rule about Sterol/Stanol Esters and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Accessed October 4, 2006.
9 Von Bergmann K, Sudhop T, Lutjohann D. Cholesterol and plant sterol absorption. Recent sights. Am J Cardiol. 2005 Jul 4;96(1A):10D-14D.
10 Title 21- Volume 21, Food and Drugs Chapter 1- Code of Federal Regulations, Revised as of April 1, 2008, Cite:21CFR101.83
11 Thompson GR. Additive effects of plant sterol and stanol esters to statin therapy. Am J Cardiol, 2005;96(1 Suppl):37-39,


This article is copyrighted and the property of Michelle Honda Ph.D. All rights reserved. It may be reprinted or used on your own website or blog – as long as this entire author resource paragraph and link below are included. Michelle Honda PhD is a holistic doctor in private practice at Renew You Holistic Health located in Ontario Canada. In addition to her doctorate, she holds an advanced degree in nutrition (RNCP), is a Master Herbalist and an IIPA Certified Iridologist. Visit her website at:


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