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Resveratrol During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?

by Katlyn Joy | June 22, 2014 12:00 AM
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Resveratrol has been hailed as a wonder-supplement for its many positive properties as discovered in a number of recent studies. But a new study raises serious concerns about previous claims of healthy outcomes in pregnant women.

The supplement resveratrol was touted last year as an anti-cancer agent, from research from the University of Missouri School of Medicine. Prior to that, in a 2012 study, the supplement was linked with anti-aging properties.

What is Resveratrol?

This substance is found in purple and red grapes, red wine, blueberries, peanuts, pistachios, cranberries, lingonberries and mulberries. The positive buzz about the chemical began when a pair of Cornell University scientists proposed that red wine could have cardiovascular benefits. This was in 1992 and since then the public has been teased about possible health pluses from the chemical, from protecting against cancer, heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. It was even suggested it may help extend life.

Exactly how resveratrol works is unknown, but scientists hypothesize that it triggers a certain gene that produces a type of protein. Once activated, they will protect the body against disease and prolong life.

While exact mechanisms of the chemical are not known, it is known that resveratrol impacts tissues of the body in a way not unlike the hormone estrogen. Resveratrol can either boost or block estrogen in a woman's body, depending on the dose and situation. This can be a defining factor for women who have conditions that are estrogen sensitive such as reproductive or breast cancers, or those on hormones already, or women trying to conceive.

Resveratrol also affects the blood, making it less sticky and therefore increases the chances of bleeding, which is problematic for patients taking blood thinners.

Pregnancy and Resveratrol: Is It Safe?

A study published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology this month in the FASEB Journal, looked at the effects of the supplement on nonhuman primates who were pregnant. The pregnant monkeys were divided into three groups: the first were fed a Western-style diet consisting of 36 percent fat and supplemented with resveratrol; the second group was fed a Western-style diet, and the third were given chow consisting of 14 percent fat.

The reasoning was that given the supplement, the subjects would increase uterine blood flow and therefore counteract the negative effects of a Western diet high in fat.

The study indicated the hypothesis was accurate; blood flow from the placenta to the placenta was improved, meaning a better outcome for offspring despite an unhealthy diet. This would then lead to fewer pregnancy complications.

However, the positive outcome came with a serious negative one. The monkey fetuses in the resveratrol group had pancreatic development problems which could lead to diabetes.

The researchers were alarmed by the results enough to issue a warning against the use of resveratrol supplements by pregnant women.

This is not the only study to call all the positive hoopla over resveratrol into question. A recent study published in JAMA and done by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, said that the supplement does not have a significant impact on reducing cardiovascular disease, cancer, reducing inflammation or extending life.

Physicians at Harvard Medical School recommend on their Harvard Health Blog that people get the benefits of resveratrol naturally through their diet. Eat the fruits and nuts that are high in the chemical and avoid the risks of the pills.

Researchers from the primate study plan to continue looking into the issue, trying to find a way to block the negative impact on the pancreas while still maintaining the positive impact on the metabolism.


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