You probably have heard that drinking red wine is good for your health. Or that eating a lot of blueberries is a great way to stay healthy and look younger. But what do they have common? Aside from being delicious and great for healthy snacking, both are also sources of pterostilbene.
Ptero-what? Despite its complicated name, pterostilbene is a naturally-occurring antioxidant that has quietly been carving its niche among those looking to protect their brain, heart, and skin from the effects of aging.
Unlike many of the “miracle ingredients” that pop up on breakfast TV specials every week, pterostilbene has several years of trials under its sleeve, and it’s ready to cross over into the big stage of mainstream preventative medicine.
Whether this is the first you hear about pterostilbene, or you have already heard many conflicting claims about it and simply need to separate the wheat from the chaff, we’re hoping this article can help.
What is Pterostilbene?
Pterostilbene is an antioxidant compound, and a close cousin of the much more famous resveratrol (the one of red wine fame). It is found in many of the same sources as resveratrol, although usually in smaller quantities.
However, thanks to a slightly different chemical structure, pterostilbene is much easier to absorb by the body: with an availability of 80% versus the 20% carried by resveratrol, it provides an opportunity to experience the perks of antioxidants without getting lost in the way. Because of this, it is often advertised as “resveratrol on steroids” – which is not too far from the truth.
How It Happens: Pterostilbene’s Mechanism of Action
Pterostilbene acts essentially as a stronger version of any antioxidant supplement. If you have been following health trends for a while, it’s likely you still remember the original antioxidant craze of the early millennium.
If not, it’s never too late for a refresher course in antioxidants – and their role in the “younger for longer” revolution.
Antioxidants are chemical compounds that can help reverse or delay oxidative cell damage – a naturally-occurring process that affects all living beings that depend on oxygen.
Oxidative damage slowly ages the cell and causes strand breaks on its DNA. This damage is usually triggered by the presence of “free radicals”, a byproduct created by the body after exercising, breathing, or digesting.
Although oxidation (just like aging) is part of the cycle of life, and therefore unavoidable, antioxidants can help delay this process by inhibiting free radicals. This helps the body keep its inflammation levels in check, and provides an extra layer of protection against cardiovascular disease.
Most naturally-occurring antioxidants can be found in fresh fruits and colorful vegetables. Many exotic species, such as Acai or goji berries, were brought to quick fame after they were discovered to be high in antioxidants. However, they can also be found in many humble kitchen staples, like tomatoes or leafy greens.
When first discovered, some people really wanted to believe that the answer to eternal youth was finally within science’s reach. While this may not have been the case, antioxidants were quickly embraced by those looking for a more realistic health boost.
As part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, antioxidants can help you put off the effects of old age for a while longer, whether they be wrinkled skin (from loss of collagen), inflamed joints, or memory loss.
Where Can I find Pterostilbene?
The main two natural sources of pterostilbene are blueberries and Pterocarpus Marsupium (Indian kino tree). However, they are also present in most berries from the Vaccinium genus (e.g. bilberries, mulberries, cranberries) as well as on grapes and grape vine leaves.
It’s important to note that most of the studies and trials on pterostilbene have been performed using high dosages of the isolated compound. Such amounts require using a standardized extract or a supplement, rather than a jar of blueberry jam.
Of course, it may not be practical to eat so many blueberries daily that you could basically feed a family of bears just to get a high dosage of pterostilbene.
That’s why if you are busy or don’t have access to blueberries (or just don’t want to eat that many of them!), we recommend a good pterostilbene supplement that can give you all the benefits of this amazing antioxidant without having to compromise so much of your time and effort.
14 Health Benefits of Pterostilbene
While “anti-aging” sounds incredibly catchy on facial cream label, the health benefits of pterostilbene deserve a more in-depth explanation. They can be clustered in 4 areas, all interconnected by their sensitivity to oxidative stress and aging.
A. Neurological Function
The effects of aging in the brain can range from ever more frequent brain farts to the more severe, life-changing symptoms of Azheimer’s disease.
1. Delays loss of motor function: If you feel you are getting slightly clumsier by the year, it may not be your imagination – fine motor function and coordination becomes less accurate with age. A study performed at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, back in 2012, showed that low, long-term doses of pterostilbene helped preserve motor function in aging mice.
2. Delays age-related memory loss: The same study showed pterostilbene was more effective than resveratrol in preserving the ability to form new short-term memories and remember new locations. This ability is very important for those looking to pursue a new skill in middle age.
3. Improves learning: A different study used high doses of pterostilbene for 1 or 2 months, and found a marked improvement in the ability to adapt to new environments and recognize new objects.
4. Protects against brain damage among stroke patients: Loss of verbal and motor function are among the most devastating long-term effects suffered by stroke survivors. A Canadian team found a high-pterostilbene blueberry extract could protect brain cells in the hippocampus, which are often damaged following a stroke or because of Alzheimer’s disease.
B. Heart health and weight control
Another seemingly “catch-all” term, heart health is often a critical concern for the public and for health officials alike. Pterostilbene can’t replace a sensible diet and exercise regime, but will definitely boost your efforts.
5. Lowers blood pressure: A placebo-controlled study in 2014 tested low and high doses of pterostilbene on adults with high cholesterol, and found those who took 250 mg of pterostilbene for 6 to 8 weeks had lowered their blood pressure. This was especially noticeable among participants who were not taking any anti-cholesterol meds.
6. Aids weight loss: The same study found that both the patients on a high dose (250 mg a day) and a low dose (100 mg daily) of pterostilbene experienced a small weight reduction.
7. Reduces long term blood sugar levels and response to insulin: This has only been tested in small studies so far, but it was significant among children with type 1 diabetes. Insulin resistance is one of the major reasons for hard-to-lose excess weight, as well as a major risk factor for heart disease.
8. Promotes muscle development: A study combined pterostilbene with caffeine supplements among healthy, highly-active adults – mostly bodybuilders. Participants followed similar high-protein diets and strenuous exercise regimes. Those taking pterostilbene experiences larger muscle gains and produced more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is necessary for muscle repair and growth.
9. Delays onset of diabetic neuropathy: Diabetic neuropathy is caused by the long term, progressive damage to nerve endings experienced by those with poorly-controlled diabetes. In 2015, a Chinese team found pterostilbene extract could help prevent it. This is likely because of a combination of its ability to lower blood sugar and protect the nervous system.
C. Anti-inflammatory effects
All antioxidants seem to have some anti-inflammatory effects, but pterostilbene has proven particularly potent for the following:
10. Preventing arthritic flare-ups: A study found that large amounts of pterostilbene could lower the production of neutrophils – a type of white cell that can trigger flare-ups among patients with arthritis.
11. Lowering inflammation inside blood vessels: According to a study published in 2016, pterostilbene can help lower the inflammation of endothelial cells – the ones that make up the internal lining of your blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. This can impact blood clotting, blood pressure, and your risk of atherosclerosis.
D. Anti-cancer effects
Although easily misinterpreted, pterostilbene has opened exciting new possibilities for those developing new types of cancer treatment.
12. Inhibit growth of breast cancer cells: Breast cancer is notoriously linked to obesity and poor nutrition. Pterostilbene has shown promising enough to be featured in the Agricultural Research Magazine, published by the USDA
13. Slowed down the growth of melanoma cells: Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is closely linked to excessive exposure to UV radiation. This is likely because UV radiation can damage the DNA of skin cells, which then may mutate and turn cancerous. Pterostilbene extract was used to decrease the in-vitro growth of melanoma cells, and promoted a quicker death for them – while leaving healthy skin cells intact.
14. Helped against esophageal cancer: Blueberry extract has also been show to inhibit the growth of esophageal cancer cells, and to prevent lung cancer cells from migrating to other organs.
Bottom Line: The Potential is There
Many of the studies on pterostilbene stand on the shoulders of previous discoveries on other antioxidants – especially resveratrol, which has been known for much longer.
Most of trials listed here date from 10 years ago or less, which is very short for health industry standards. As a result, it may take a few more years for this information to reach the selves of your average neighborhood pharmacy, right next to Vitamin C and Omega 3 supplements.
However, there are already some very high-quality pterostilbene supplements on the market today that can help give you all the benefits of this amazing antioxidant compound, especially if you do not have the access or the time to gorge yourself on blueberries every day.
While it doesn’t look like blueberry jam will prevent heart attacks and breast cancer, pterostilbene is sure to continue featuring in science journals for years to come. If you are looking to make the most of your new health plan, it’s definitely worth a shot!