Resveratrol May Improve Bone Health

A new report takes a long-term look at the effects of the phytoestrogen found in red fruit

With Rachel Wong PhD

There are some 200 million people who suffer from osteoporosis, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation – 10 million of them in the United States. The foundation estimates that one in three women and one in five men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture after the age of 50. In the United States, an estimated 44 million people are at risk of osteoporosis due to low bone density.  A new study may have found a method to help prevent bone loss using the supplementation of resveratrol, a phytoestrogen common in the skin of red grapes, red wine, and berries.

Those who develop osteoporosis after menopause can lose 12% of the bone mass in as little as 5 years, the bulk of it in trabecular, or spongy bone, increasing the likelihood of having undetected spinal fractures.

The existing science behind resveratrol

There has been research on the use of phytoestrogens like soy isoflavones, as well as resveratrol, which are structurally similar to estrogen and can bind to the hormone’s receptors providing improvement in a variety of areas, including cardiovascular health. One study found resveratrol could reduce the levels of testosterone in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

There have been previous studies that have looked at resveratrol’s impact on bone health, but according to authors of this new study, the results were “lackluster,” in part because none exceeded 6 months in length or looked at women who had experienced menopause to see if resveratrol could help with estrogen-related osteoporosis.

Taking a longer look at a larger population

The new report is part of The Resveratrol for Healthy Aging in Women (RESHAW) trial, which lasted two years and included a crossover intervention at 12 months in which participants were changed from either placebo or resveratrol supplementation to the opposite treatment for an additional year. Bone density was measured before the study, at 12 months, and at 24 months.

Along with bone measurements, the participants had blood drawn to look at cerebrovascular function, cardiometabolic measure, cognitive health, and well-being. 

  • The 129 participants were 45 to 85 years old and more than 12 months from their last period.
  • None were on hormone replacement
  • Researchers excluded those who took insulin, blood thinners, or had history of breast or cervical cancer, liver or kidney disease, depression, dementia or other neurological disorders.
  • Sites evaluated included bone density of the left and right total hip and neck of femur, and the anterior-posterior plane of the entire body.
  • Blood was evaluated for levels of osteocalcin and C‐terminal telopeptide type‐1 collagen.
  • 66 women were in the placebo group and 63 in the resveratrol group
  • 125 completed the study.
  • Compliance in each arms of the first and second years of the study was over 94%.

Results

The initial measurements at study onset showed that, based on their femoral neck measurements, 50 women had normal bone density, 72 could be classified as having osteopenia, and 6 women already had osteoporosis. Those participants who regularly took vitamin D supplements showed better lumbar bone density, while those taking both vitamin D and calcium supplements had lower density in the femur neck.

After the initial year, bone density improved in the lumbar spine for those taking resveratrol by 1%. Total hip and femur neck also increased in those who took the 75 mg of resveratrol every morning and evening compared to those who took a placebo twice daily.

There was no difference in the osteocalcin levels among those who took the resveratrol. The authors said that there was no real difference in risk of major fractures between the groups.

After the second year of study during which they took a placebo, the resveratrol group’s improvement in bone density declined, but did not return to base levels, while those who were initially taking a placebo saw their bone density improve on resveratrol.

Researchers also found that among those in the resveratrol group who took calcium only or calcium and vitamin D, there was greater increase in bone density than those who took neither. Those who took calcium only improved more than those who took vitamin D only. Resveratrol benefits increased most in those who took both supplements.

Discussion

Lead author Rachel Wong, PhD, of the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, says the research group has been interested in how resveratrol improves circulatory function. “Blood supply to the bone is crucial for bone growth and repair, and vascular aging can accelerate bone loss.” This is especially true for women after menopause, and after a successful 14-week pilot study, they wanted to evaluate how the supplements worked over a longer period of time.

While some of the positive impacts of resveratrol have been confirmed before, Wong says that no one had yet looked at the impact on postmenopausal women, “which is an important population most susceptible to accelerated bone loss due to loss of estrogen at menopause.”

While not completely surprised, Wong still says she was pleased to find the benefits to hip and spine, some of the most common and dangerous fracture sites. “What was interesting was that individuals who have greater bone resorption were more responsive to resveratrol, suggesting a potential for resveratrol to improve bone health in those at risk for rapid bone loss.” The results relating to calcium and vitamin D supplementation were also interesting, she adds.

Resveratrol is available without a prescription and generally found to be safe by regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration. “This study provided an indication for the potential for resveratrol as a supplement to assist with healthy aging only, and not used to treat an existing condition. Much more work needs to be done before any recommendations can be made.”

The amount used is 80 times higher than the average daily intake from food sources, so supplements are necessary. As yet, she says there are no studies evaluating bone health and resveratrol received through food sources alone.

Next up, Wong says she wants to explore the “magnitude of improvement in individuals with osteopenia or osteoporosis, and to evaluate if there is an additive benefit of combining resveratrol with vitamin D and calcium supplements on bone health.”

Continue Reading:
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