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Have you heard of pterostilbene? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t. A relative newcomer to the supplement scene, pterostilbene (terro-still-bean) is chemically related to the antioxidant resveratrol and shares many of the same characteristics and health benefits, but offers its own unique advantages, including better absorption and bioavailability.
Resveratrol and pterostilbene are both stilbene compounds, naturally-occurring substances found in certain plants, including grapes and blueberries (pterostilbene is primarily found in blueberries). Biologically, they act as phytoalexins, phytochemicals that are part of the plants’ defense system against certain pathogens, including fungi and bacteria. In humans, in addition to their antioxidant properties, these compounds have been found to be anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, and to support healthy blood sugar metabolism.
While the health benefits of resveratrol and pterostilbene are very similar, the slight difference in chemical structure allows pterostilbene to be better absorbed and more bioactive once it is absorbed, and to last longer in the body (105 minutes vs. 14 minutes) compared to resveratrol. However, research shows that resveratrol and pterostilbene tend to be more complementary in their actions rather than competitive and actually work synergistically, meaning their combined effect is greater than their individual effect.
Much of pterostilbene’s (and resveratrol’s) health-promoting benefits seem to come from their ability to positively affect gene expression, or the ability to switch certain genes on or off; for example, switching off cancer-promoting genes or switching on genes that are neuroprotective. Interestingly, pterostilbene and resveratrol seem to work at different locations in the control of gene expression, complementing each other to produce health-promoting effects across the cycle of gene expression.
Like its cousin resveratrol, pterostilbene is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect cells, proteins, and DNA from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, which are created by normal metabolic processes in the body and from outside factors like pollution, sunlight, smoking, and strenuous exercise. As we age, cells, proteins, and DNA damaged by these free radicals accumulate and may contribute to aging and disease. In fact, oxidative stress is thought to be a major contributor to the development of a number of common diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and atherosclerosis. An antioxidant like pterostilbene can help maintain the health and normal functioning of cells and DNA by protecting them from this oxidative damage.
Along with oxidative damage, chronic inflammation is also known to be a major underlying cause of many diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease. Pterostilbene has been shown to contribute to a healthy inflammatory response by lowering the production of specific inflammatory cytokines and reducing COX-2 gene expression (COX-2 is an enzyme responsible for inflammation).
We also know that chronically high levels of blood sugar and insulin can lead to increased levels of inflammation, not to mention the development of insulin resistance and ultimately, type-2 diabetes. Pterostilbene has been shown in animal models to support glucose metabolism, insulin function, and significantly reduce glycation, a process in which glucose attaches itself to proteins, causing significant cellular and tissue damage and is thought to be a factor in cellular aging.
Studies also suggest that pterostilbene exhibits anti-carcinogenic characteristics. Both in vitro and animal models have shown that pterostilbene suppresses the formation of pre-cancerous cells, blocks enzymes that activate carcinogens, induces apoptosis in cancer cells (programmed cell death), and inhibits metastasis (growth to other parts of the body). In addition to all of this, pterostilbene seems to have a unique mechanism to thwart cancer growth. Cancer cells communicate with each other across special connectors called gap junctions. Pterostilbene disrupts those gap junctions, interfering with cancer cell-to-cell communication, which is required to maintain their viability.
In addition to being antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and supporting healthy blood sugar metabolism, preliminary research is finding that pterostilbene can also boost cognitive function and memory. In animal models, pterostilbene had a greater affect on cognitive function than resveratrol, which researchers attribute to pterostilbene’s better bioavailability. The researchers found high concentrations of pterostilbene in brain tissue whereas the resveratrol was undetectable. Another study found that pterostilbene was the most effective among a group of resveratrol-like compounds at preventing the loss of dopamine from memory centers in aged rats. This same study showed that working memory function was correlated with levels of pterostilbene in the hippocampus, a key brain location where memory is processed.
Although it is a newcomer, pterostilbene is proving to be an important ally in the long-standing fight against aging and disease. Especially when combined with the anti-aging effects of resveratrol, this antioxidant is a worthwhile addition to any health-promoting regimen.
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Tanzer, Brian. “A Comparative Look at Resveratrol and Pterostilbene.” Vitamin Retailer; January 2012.
Valko, M., Leibfritz, D., Moncol, J., Cronin, MTD, Mazur, M., Telser, J. “Free radicals and antioxidants in normal physiological functions and human disease”. International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology 39 (1): 44–84. doi:10.1016/j.biocel.2006.07.001
McCormack D, McFadden D. “Pterostilbene and Cancer: Current Review.” J Surg Res. 2011 Oct 21.
Pari L, Satheesh MA. “Effect of pterostilbene on hepatic key enzymes of glucose metabolism in streptozotocin- and nicotinamide-induced diabetic rats.” Life Sci.2006 Jul 10;79(7):641-5.
Johnson, Tiesha D. RN, BSN “The “Other” Resveratrol: A Novel Method to Simulate the Genetic Effects of Caloric Restriction.” Life Extension Magazine http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2009/ss2009_The-Other-Resveratrol_01.htm
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