Pterostilbene: A Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Improving Anti-Cancer Nutrient
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Pterostilbene, like its cousin resveratrol, is gaining world-wide attention for its rather dramatic ability to improve human health, protect against the diseases of aging, and extend lifespan1.
Pterostilbene is found in small amounts in blueberries and grapes, but the most cost effective source is from the bark and heartwood of a tree that grows in India and Sri Lanka (Pterocarpus marsupium
or Indian Kino Tree).
Pterostilbene for Blood Sugar and Lipid Metabolism
Extracts ofPterocarpus marsupium have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for several thousand years for the treatment of diabetes. Modern day animal research on Pterocarpus marsupium
helps support its traditional folk medicine use, showing it can:
In today’s marketplace extracts of Pterocarpus marsupium can be standardized for its most important biologically active compound, pterostilbene6 (pronounced “tero-STILL-bean”). This nutrient is a type of polyphenol known as a stilbenoid, as is resveratrol. Stilbenoids are very small molecules that are readily absorbed, wherein they participate in antioxidant systems, anti-inflammatory systems (lowering NF-kappaB and unfriendly nitric oxide8), and can have profound regulatory impact on multiple gene signals. Pterostilbene has two methoxy and one hydroxyl group, whereas resveratrol has three hydroxyl groups. These small differences in an otherwise identical structure enable quite different function. For one thing this enables pterostilbene to be absorbed into cells easier and makes it slower to be cleared out of the body, compared to resveratrol. Pterostilbene excels as an antioxidant between cells (such as inflammatory tissue damage9) whereas reseveratrol excels at protecting cells in the blood. Resveratrol specializes in activating the longevity gene SIRT1, whereas pterostilbene has a profound effect on the fat/lipid metabolizing gene PPAR (both nutrients activate many genes). Stilbenoids are synthesized by plants in response to infectious attack, making them excellent immune support nutrients. The unique structure of pterostilbene makes it 5-10 times as potent an anti-fungal as resveratrol.
When pterostilbene enters a cell, it easily binds to the receptors for PPAR activation10, enabling improved metabolism of triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Hamster studies show that PPAR activation with pterostilbene11 lowered LDL cholesterol by 29%, lowered blood sugar by 14%, and boosted protective HDL cholesterol by 7%.
The major problem of high blood sugar is that it caramelizes healthy body structure by forming advanced glycation end products (AGEs), thereby speeding the decline of the kidneys, heart, eyes, and all things flexible. A new study shows that pterostilbene can directly block the formation of AGEs12. Another study showed that pterostilbene lowered hemoglobin A1C13 in diabetic rats (a marker that predicts AGEs formation). And yet another study showed that this versatile nutrient prevented damage to the liver and kidneys14 of diabetic rats.
The abnormal proliferation of cells within the walls of arteries takes place during the plaque formation process. An animal study shows that pterostilbene15 inhibited this undesirable process. The researchers concluded that “pterostilbene may be a potential anti-proliferative agent for the treatment of atherosclerosis.”
The metabolic science on pterostilbene along with its traditional folk use, warrant its inclusion along with other synergistic nutrients to support healthy metabolism of lipids and blood sugar.
Pterostilbene as an Anti-Cancer Nutrient
One of the great problems of being overweight is that it significantly boosts the risk for cancer including aggressive breast and prostate cancer. Not only does pterostilbene help support the return of normal metabolism, it is one of the most heavily researched anti-cancer compounds.
As a small molecule, pterostilbene has no problem gaining access into cancer cells. It appears to be a cancer cell’s worst nightmare. It damages a cancer cell’s membrane and DNA and induces death signals causing self-destruction. This was recently shown with studies of both breast and prostate cancer cells16. In another recent breast cancer cell study, pterostilbene caused the energy-producing system within the cancer cell to malfunction and generate massive amounts of free radicals instead of energy, resulting in breast cancer cell death17. Similar findings have now been demonstrated with pancreatic cancer cells18. Pterostilbene has also been shown to inhibit colon cancer19, lung cancer20, liver cancer21, and skin cancer22.
In a recent study with bladder cancer cells23 pterostilbene was shown for the first time to activate the autophagy process wherein a cell is commanded to eat itself, thereby inducing cell death. In normal health, autophagy is used to help keep a cell clean, which prevents cancer. It is amazing, that the intelligence to help healthy cells and help kill cancer cells exists, by important mechanisms like autophagy.
Pterostilbene is a nutrient you are sure to hear more about. It works by multiple mechanisms at the gene level to promote metabolic health and the risk of cancer.
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