There are two forms (isomers) of resveratrol used as supplements:
The difference between the two from the perspective of a chemist is very small — structurally the two are nearly identical.
From the perspective of a nutritionist however, the two compounds are radically different.
Trans-resveratrol offers significantly more health benefits to the body than cis-resveratrol. In fact, cis-resveratrol has even been reported to negate much of the benefits of trans-resveratrol when taken together.
For this reason, all of our resveratrol is exclusively the trans-resveratrol isomer.
How Does Trans-Resveratrol Work?
The mechanisms used by trans-resveratrol to produce its effects have been puzzling researchers for decades. Although there are parts of resveratrol we understand well, there are others that remain more elusive.
What we do know about the compound is that it has a high antioxidant capacity — especially in the mitochondria of the cells where most of our energy is produced.
Free radical compounds are abundant in our environment (hydrocarbons, pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, etc). Other free radicals are produced naturally by the body as a byproduct of cellular processes like energy production.
The very nature of a free-radical means it’s unstable and will steal electrons from other molecules it comes into contact with. If enough of these molecules are affected, it can cause our cells, or our DNA to break.
Oxidative damage to the DNA is one of the main mechanisms attributed to the side-effects of ageing. All proteins in the body — including enzymes — rely on DNA as the blueprints. As more of our DNA becomes damaged, the proteins it encodes for may also be defective — leading to side-effects like sagging skin, fatigue, lowered immunity, and many other side-effects.
Trans-resveratrol prevents this from happening by taking the hit of the free radical instead. Instead of stealing electrons from our cells, resveratrol swoops in to give it the electrons it needs — thus preventing damage to the DNA or cell membranes.
Other benefits of trans-resveratrol come from a concept called hormesis.
Hormesis is a concept where a compound (in this case trans-resveratrol) causes a small amount of stress to the body — to which the body responds by activating compounds designed to protect us from this stress. Since the initial trigger was so small, the response made by the body ends up being far greater than it needs to be — resulting in a bolstering of our antistress systems.
The idea is that resveratrol can, therefore, increase our ability to resist stressful situations (including mental, physical, and chemical stress) — leading to a better state of health, and a longer lifespan (in theory).