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Resveratrol May Help Battle Obesity

Resveratrol, a compound present in grapes and red wine, reduces the number of fat cells and may one day be used to treat or prevent obesity, according to a new study. The results were presented at The Endocrine Society’s 90th Annual Meeting in San Francisco and published in the June 2010 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Past research found that resveratrol protected laboratory mice that were fed a high-calorie diet from the health problems of obesity, by mimicking the effects of calorie restriction. Researchers at the University of Ulm in Germany wanted to know if resveratrol could mimic the effects of calorie restriction in human fat cells by changing their size or function. The German team used a strain of human fat cell precursors, called preadipocytes. In the body, these cells develop into mature fat cells, according to the study’s lead author, Pamela Fischer-Posovszky, PhD, a pediatric endocrinology research fellow in the university’s Diabetes and Obesity Unit.

In the cell-based study, they found that resveratrol inhibited the pre-fat cells from increasing and prevented them from converting into mature fat cells. Also, resveratrol hindered fat storage. Most interesting, according to Fischer-Posovszky, was that resveratrol reduced production of certain cytokines (interleukins 6 and 8), substances that may be linked to the development of obesity-related disorders, such as diabetes and clogged coronary arteries. Also, resveratrol stimulated formation of a protein known to decrease the risk of heart attack. Obesity decreases this substance, called adiponectin.

This study found that resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes, may help control fat cell activity and thereby help with the toxins that get excreted from adipose tissue that contribute to the adverse health effects of obesity. Resveratrol has been shown to help maintain liver health and blood sugar health by activating a protein called sirtuin 1 which plays a role in lifespan. In the study, researchers exposed human fat cells to either a placebo or resveratrol (ranging from 10 micromoles/Liter to 100 micromoles/Liter) for 60 hours.

By the end of the 60 hour period, fat cell division in the placebo group was 137% higher than the resveratrol group (100 micromoles/L), with fat cell division increasing by 380% in the placebo group compared to 160% increase in the resveratrol group. There was also a 45% decrease in maturation of the fat cells by resveratrol compared to the placebo group at 100 micromoles/Liter, with even 10 micromoles/Liter decreasing fat cell maturation by 6%.

The significance of resveratrol’s ability to slow down both fat cell division and fat cell maturation is that this process is a hallmark of obesity progression. Past research has focused on preventing this division and maturation primarily through calorie restriction as well as alternative treatments like guggulsterone supplementation.

It is this ability to prevent fat cell division and maturation that has enabled resveratrol to promote longevity in simple organisms like the bacteria C. Elegans and the fruit fly (Drosophila Melanogaster) but even more complex animals like fish (Nothobranchius furzeri).

The researchers concluded “our findings open up the new perspective that resveratrol-induced intracellular pathways could be a target for prevention or treatment of obesity-associated endocrine and metabolic adverse effects.” “Resveratrol has anti-obesity properties by exerting its effects directly on the fat cells,” Fischer-Posovszky said. “Thus, resveratrol might help to prevent development of obesity or might be suited to treating obesity.”

The new finding is consistent with the theory that the resveratrol in red wine explains the French paradox, the observation that French people eat a relatively high-fat diet but have a low death rate from heart disease.


Fischer-Posovsky P. Resveratrol regulates human adipocyte number and function in a Sirt1 dependent manner. Am J Clin Nutr 2010 Jun;92:5–15.

Endocrine Society Released: Wed 11-Jun-2008

Key concepts: Resveratrol, obesity, Sirt1