In the battle of the wines, when it comes red versus white, science tends to side with the darker blend. Drinking red wine has been touted for its health benefits, especially for diabetics, from improving cholesterol to blood sugar levels. Now, researchers at Boston University in Massachusetts suggest there's another reason to toast — it can decrease artery stiffness in people with type 2 diabetes.

Resveratrol, an antioxidant commonly present in some wine and fruits, is found to have a protective effect against heart disease by improving vascular function and reducing inflammation. The natural compound is known to slow down premature aging of the arteries by activating SIRT1 — a gene that slows down the aging. Specifically, it's able to reduce the stiffness of the aorta, which is the main artery that transports blood from the heart and into the rest of the body.

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In the new study, presented at the American Heart Association's Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology and Peripheral Vascular Disease 2017 Scientific Sessions in Minnesota, researchers found a 300 milligram (mg) per day dose of resveratrol decreased aortic stiffness by 9 percent in type 2 diabetes patients. Resveratrol's effect was also seen with a 100 mg daily intake of resveratrol, which reduced aortic stiffness by 4.8 percent. Contrastingly, patients given the placebo treatment saw the opposite effect and experienced an increase in aortic stiffness.

“The effect of resveratrol may be more about improving structural changes in the aorta, and less about the relaxation of blood vessels, and people with more normal aortic stiffness may not get as much benefit,” said Dr. Naomi M. Hamburg, senior author of the study, and chief of the vascular biology section at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts, in a statement.

Arteries become less supple with age, and heart-related events, such as increased blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and stroke tend to lead to faster aging. Diabetics are more likely to show signs of premature aging of the arteries compared to a healthy individual. This suggests resveratrol may be more beneficial to diabetics.

The findings also highlight the possibility that there are interventions that can reverse blood vessel abnormalities associated with aging, and more seen more in people with type 2 diabetes and obesity. The activation of the SIRT1 gene in humans implies this could be a potential mechanism for supplements to reduce aortic stiffness. The small study provides a beacon of hope for future research on resveratrol protective effects on heart health for type 2 diabetes.

Glass of red wine Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, can reduce arterial stiffness in type 2 diabetes patients. Photo courtesy of Pexels, Public Domain

However, the changes seen in these patients is not proof. The small and short-term study consisted of 57 patients with type 2 diabetes with an average of 56, who were considered to be obese based on their body mass index (BMI) calculations. Hamburg and her colleagues used carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (CFPWV) test to measure their aortic stiffness after patients consumed daily doses of 100 mg/day of resveratrol for two weeks, followed by 300 mg/day for two weeks, and after being administered a match, polyphenol-free placebo for a total of four weeks.

Overall, resveratrol treatment appeared to reduce aortic stiffness, but this change was not statistically significant. The natural compound's effect was only seen in subgroup of 23 patients who showed high arterial stiffness at baseline after they took 100 mg/day and 300 mg/day of resveratrol. Yet, researchers agree their findings warrant more extensive research.

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"Studies with longer treatment are needed to test the effects of a daily resveratrol supplement on vascular function,” said Ji-Yao Ella Zhang, lead study author, Ph.D., and postdoctoral fellow at the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at Boston University.

Currently, no significant or severe harmful side effects have been reported among those who consume resveratrol. Mild nausea, abdominal pain, flatulence, and diarrhea were seen in patients who took more than 1 gram/day of resveratrol for up to 29 consecutive days. Diabetics who wish to consume resveratrol supplements should consult with their doctor since dietary supplements are not required to be standardized in the U.S.

Further research could determine whether resveratrol could potentially reduce arterial stiffness, and make living a lot easier for 29.1 million people with diabetes in the U.S.

Source: Hamburg NM, Zhang YJE, Holbrook M et al. Can the antioxidant resveratrol reduce artery stiffness in diabetics? American Heart Association Meeting Report -- Session 15 -- Poster Presentation 164. 4 May 2017.

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