I hope that your week is going well!
I am knee deep in research for some new blog posts on maximizing hormones for building lean muscle! I came across this finding recently on science daily regarding Resveratrol (a Polyphenol known for antioxidant & anti-inflammatory actions) and possible fetal development issues. I wanted to briefly comment on it, before the media started to run with it. The study was published recently in the FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) journal.
The article examined the effects on fetal development in utero on nonhuman primates (monkeys-specifically the Japanese Macaques). The Polyphenol Resveratrol has been praised over the last decade or so for it’s many health benefits & has been determined to be one of the beneficial compounds in dark Red & Purple grapes (Wine) and ultimately potentially responsible for the French Paradox. Obviously, it has spawned a large supplement market for this product. Importantly, other foods high in polyphenols include most dark leafy green vegetables, > 80% dark chocolate and Teas including Green Tea.
The macaques were maintained on a western style diet with 36% of calories from fats (often omega-6 rich) with highly refined carbs and poor quality proteins making up the rest of that diet. This does simulate the standard american diet (SAD) pretty well, unfortunately. Resveratrol was infused into a subset of animals and a control substance infused into the others. Resveratrol levels were assayed in maternal & fetal plasma, as well as many other indicators of both maternal & fetal health measured.
Summary of findings:
For Mother: 1) Increases maternal weight loss; 2) Improves maternal glucose clearance, with no impact on fetal insulin or triglyceride or fatty acid levels.
For Fetus: 1) Improved blood flow to fetus across uterine artery; 2) reduced Western diet-induced placental inflammation & 3) preserves fetal growth. High Triglycerides common in fetus with Western diet – Resveratrol supplementation decreased this accumulation in the liver;
1) No difference in fetal mass or MOST organ sizes; 2) 42% increase in pancreatic mass; 3) 12-fold increase in exocrine pancreatic inflammation; 4) Increased Gene expression of BCL2 (anti-apototic marker) in pancreas; 5) Further reduced α-cell mass in presence of Western diet – despite this loss, Glucagon gene expression did NOT differ; it actually increased when correcting for α-cell mass; 6) increased proliferation of β-cells in pancreas with a trend towards increased β-cell mass but reduced insulin gene expression on a per-cell basis;
The long-term effect of this is unknown but it could end up being good or bad. 1) Good – the increased β-cell proliferation makes more individual β-cells and each one has to work less over it’s lifetime, therefore preserving β-cell function longer in life; 2) Bad – the increased β-cell proliferation means that the offspring will produce more insulin overall, which could accelerate aging & also increase risk for hypoglycemic episodes.
So, in my opinion, this study shows how the effects of this supplementation of Resveratrol had one set of effects on the mother and a whole other set on the fetus. It will be important to learn what the implications of those changes are in the long-term.
However, I do know that inflammation and oxidative stress are an absolutely critical part of fetal development & are often signals that trigger different stages of development & even labor. There is a “sweet spot” of inflammation and/or oxidative stress that stimulates proper signalling of developmental phase progression and outside of that window there is either not enough inflammation or too much inflammation and the result is poor progression or premature labor/or miscarriage. Similarly, some oxidative stress is essential for insuring pregnancy & fetal development, but too much oxidative stress vs. natural defense mechanisms (antioxidants) can results in poor fetal development or premature labor/ or miscarriage. As with most things, finding the right balance for you will be the key.
Resveratrol is known to have powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory effects & in excess these could impair fetal & fetal organelle development overall. Certainly, Resveratrol when consumed as part of a whole/real food diet has many benefits, without the apparent drawbacks. However, but as is almost always the case, when supplementing with that single nutrient/component of food without any of its accompanying co-factors or compounds likely permits higher than normally occurring doses that blow past benefits & into stressing/harming the body. For more on the effect of dose & benefit or harm, see my previous post on Hormesis.
Of course, we need to consider evolutionary biology. We would have consumed significantly more polyphenols (i.e. vegetables & fruits) than are present in the Western Diet, but we would have never been exposed to particularly large doses of one specific polyphenol alone, without any naturally occurring co-factors. Furthermore, we would not have absorbed 100% of the polyphenol, which happens when it is infused intravenously, which therefore, makes it hard to extrapolate the results of these studies into practical info that we can use tonight to make us healthier. It is an interesting finding however, but in my opinion provides further evidence that we should be getting our beneficial compounds (i.e. Polyphenols, etc…) from whole, real, unprocessed foods!
Although it’s necessary to break food down into its component nutrients to understand it better from a scientific point of view, recommending & consuming those nutrients alone is what I believe Michael Pollan intended when he coined the term nutritionism, seldom produces good results for health & longevity.
Honestly, the best thing you can do for yourself & your offspring (either here now or to be born in the future) is to EAT REAL FOOD (ERF) and avoid exposure to processed garbage!
Have a great week!
Till next time,