Since resveratrol is hailed for numerous benefits to health, it is no wonder supplements of the compound are popular. But new research from Oregon Health & Science University and the University of Colorado-Denver suggests that taking such supplements during pregnancy may cause pancreatic problems for the fetus.

Resveratrol is an antioxidant that belongs to a group of plant compounds called polyphenols. It is naturally found in the skin of red grapes, peanuts, blueberries and dark chocolate.

The compound has been associated with an array of health benefits. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study from the University of Missouri School of Medicine, which suggested that resveratrol could help treat cancer. A 2012 study found that the compound may even have anti-aging properties.

But for pregnant women, resveratrol is believed to improve metabolic health. Such benefits have led to the popular use of resveratrol supplements. However, the researchers of this latest study note that little is known about how the supplements affect the developing fetus during pregnancy.

To find out, the investigators analyzed the effects of resveratrol on pregnant monkeys.

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Taking resveratrol supplements during pregnancy may hinder normal pancreatic development in the fetus, according to researchers.

The monkeys were fed a Western-style diet consisting of 36% fat, which was supplemented with 0.37% resveratrol during pregnancy. The effects were compared with pregnant control monkeys that were fed either a Western-style diet alone or a chow made up of 14% fat.

Results of the study, recently published in the The FASEB Journal, revealed that the pregnant monkeys that received resveratrol supplementation demonstrated improved blood flow from the the placenta to the fetus. This may reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and health issues commonly found in babies of obese women who follow an unhealthy diet.

However, the team came across an unexpected effect. They found that the fetus’ of monkeys who received resveratrol supplementation showed abnormal development of the pancreas – an organ critical for regulating glucose in the blood. Such defects may increase the risk of diabetes.

Commenting on the team’s findings, senior co-author Kevin Grove, of Oregon Health & Science University’s Oregon National Primate Research Center, says:

In the beginning, the results were promising and we had hoped to find a natural supplement that could improve the pregnancy complications. However, the negative impact on the pancreas is really concerning. It immediately raised an alarm.”

Senior co-author Dr. Antonio Frias, of Oregon Health & Science University’s Center for Women’s Health, says the findings are such a concern that doctors should ask whether pregnant patients are taking resveratrol supplements, and if so, they should advise them to stop.

In addition, he notes that it is thanks to animal research, such as this latest study, that we are now aware of the negative effect of resveratrol supplements on the developing fetus.

“Although we are uncertain of the long-term impact of these changes, problems with pancreatic development might not have been evident for many years after the child was born,” Dr. Frias adds.

The team says they plan to continue studying resveratrol in nonhuman primates to see whether they can block its negative effect on the developing pancreas while keeping its positive effects of improved blood flow.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, which questioned the health benefits of resveratrol.

The study, led by researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, suggested that the compound does not have a substantial effect on reducing inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer or increasing lifespan.