Pterostilbene (pronounced terro-still-bene) is a beneficial dietary compound that is found in antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, cranberries and grapes. In both human and animal studies, it has been shown to offer protection against many neurological, cardiovascular, metabolic and hematologic disorders. For example, pterostilbene benefits include protecting against memory loss, high cholesterol, high blood pressure levels and even certain types of cancer.
As a methylated stilbene molecule, it has a similar structure to the antioxidant resveratrol. Pterostilbene and resveratrol share many of the same benefits, including fighting oxidative stress, but pterostilbene has been shown to have superior bioavailability. In other words, pterostilbene is believed to be absorbed and utilized by the body more easily than similar phytonutrients, which is one reason why it’s recently caught the attention of health researchers.
What Is Pterostilbene?
It was named after the Pterocarpus plant family plants, which were the first sources of pterostilbene to be discovered. Originally the compound was isolated from the red sandalwood tree (Pterocarpus santalinus) and later sourced from Pterocarpus marsupium. (1) There are more than 35 different pantropical pterocarpus plants, which are native to Asia and Western Africa. Pterocarpus plants go by several names around the world, including Paduak, Narra, Indian kino tree, Malabar kino and Vijayasar. (2)
What is pterostilbene good for when it comes to improving your health? A 2013 review published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity states, “The antioxidant activity of pterostilbene has been implicated in anticarcinogenesis, modulation of neurological disease, anti-inflammation, attenuation of vascular disease, and amelioration of diabetes. (3)
Some of the many positive effects of pterostllbene include:
- Fighting oxidative stress, thanks to its strong antioxidant activity. This allows it to help prevent and treat various chronic diseases.
- Helping to prevent cancer and tumor growth, especially breast and colon cancers. (4)
- Protecting against neurological diseases, including memory loss and dementia.
- Fighting inflammation, the root cause of many diseases, and boosting the immune system.
- Protecting the heart and blood vessels.
- Naturally fighting bacterial and fungal infections of the skin.
- Helping to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome.
1. Fights Oxidative Stress
There’s evidence that pterostilbene has anti-inflammatory properties, reduces oxidative stress and reduces production of reactive oxygen species, which contribute to many chronic diseases. (5) In animal studies, cells treated with pterostilbene have shown increased expression of the antioxidants catalase, total glutathione, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase and superoxide dismutase. (6)
2. May Help Prevent Cancer
Like resveratrol, pterostilbene has been reported to have cancer-preventive activity. In several clinical trials, it has been shown to be a natural anticancer agent due to its antioxidant and antineoplastic properties (antineoplastic means it acts to prevent, inhibit or halt the development of a neoplasm, or a tumor). (7) Consuming pterostilbene helps lead to improved function of normal cells and inhibition of malignant cells. Some of the ways that it inhibits cancer growth is through the alteration of cancerous cell cycles, induction of apoptosis (cell death), and inhibition of tumorigenesis and metastasis.
A number of studies have found that blueberry extract containing pterostilbene can be especially helpful for preventing and treating breast cancer. (8) Results from experiments using blueberry juice and extract derived from velvetleaf blueberries showed that blueberry exerts an antiproliferative effect against breast cancer cell lines due to the presence of specific chemical components that modify carcinogenic pathways. (9) There’s some evidence that pterostilbene may help inhibit cytochrome P450, an enzymes that activates a variety of compounds known as “procarcinogens” that make carcinogens more dangerous.
3. Supports Cognitive Health
Blueberries are known to be a powerful brain food because they are a great source of protective antioxidants that can help enhance cognition and protect memory. While more studies are needed to confirm its effects, there’s some evidence that pterostilbene supplements may help reduce symptoms like brain fog, anxiety, poor memory and difficulty learning. Due to its ability to prevent oxidative stress in the brain, pterostilbene and other similar compounds may help protect against neurological problems, including Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral injury, neuronal apoptosis, reduced brain volume and brain edema (swelling). (10, 11)
4. May Help Reduce Risk for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders
Some animal studies have found that supplementing with 250–500 milligrams of pterostilbene can have benefits for improving cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar (glucose) levels. Because it can help with the reduction of blood glucose, it may be able to improve insulin sensitivity and offer protection against diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
One study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that when adults with high total cholesterol levels supplemented with 125 milligrams of pterostilbene twice daily they experienced a reduction in blood pressure (diastolic and systolic). (12) The participants who were not on cholesterol medication also experienced minor weight loss with pterostilbene.
In other animal studies, supplementing with low doses of pterostilbene led to an improvement in cholesterol metabolism, including an increase in HDL “good cholesterol” and a decrease in LDL “bad cholesterol.” (13) One study out of Annamalai University’s Department of Biochemistry in India involving diabetic rats found that supplementing with 40 milligrams of pterostilbene per kilogram of body weight resulted in a significant reduction in triglyceride levels over a six-week period. (14)
Risks and Side Effects
Compared to medications that are prescribed to treat symptoms like high cholesterol and other common health problems, pterostilbene is much less likely to cause side effects (such as muscle pain and nausea). It is generally safe to consume from both foods and supplements, but in high doses it may interfere with the effects of certain medications.
If you take medications to help control your cholesterol, blood pressure and/or blood glucose levels, it’s best to speak with your doctor first before beginning any new supplements. Your doctor can help to monitor your reaction if you choose to start taking pterostilbene in order to make sure your dosage doesn’t need to be adjusted.
Even when taken in high doses, pterostilbene has been found to be generally non-toxic. However, high doses do not seem to offer additional benefits, which is why you should follow dosage recommendations, and according to the research published in the Journal of Toxicology, “the potential for toxicity cannot be excluded at higher doses.” (15) Stop taking pterostilbene supplements if you experience nausea, aches, hives or any unusual symptoms. If you have allergies to pterostilbene foods like berries, peanuts or grapes, you should avoid eating these foods even if they are otherwise considered “healthy.”
The very best food sources of pterostilbene are foods high in antioxidants, including blueberries, cranberries and other berries, and, to a lesser degree, red grapes.
A number of other plants that are less widely available are also sources, including heartwood, which is the source for an herbal remedy made from the bark of the Pterocarpus marsupium tree. You may have never heard of pterostilbene sources like heartwood before, but heartwood powder and extract have been utilized as natural antidiabetic treatments in many cultures for thousands of years. (16)
Here is a list of pterostilbene food and plant sources that have been discovered so far:
- Blueberries, including blueberry juice and extract. Pterostilbene had been detected in berries of the Vaccinium genus, a group of shrubs that includes many types of berries, of which blueberries and cranberries are the most widely available.
- Other berries including cranberry, bilberry or whortleberry, lingonberry or cowberry, and huckleberry.
- Red grapes, both the berries and leaves of red grape trees. While this hasn’t been extensively studies, pterostilbene is also believed to be found in small concentrations in red wine (just like resveratrol).
- Heartwood, also called Indian Kino Tree (Pterocarpus marsupium).
- Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea).
- Sandalwood (pterocarpus santalinus), which is also the source of rosewood and known in China as Zita.
- Anogeissus acuminata.
- Narra tree (Pterocarpus indicus).
- The Dracaena genus of plants.
- Roots of the Rheum rhaponticum plant.
How much pterostilbene is in top sources like blueberries? It’s estimated that the content in blueberry varies from 99 nanograms to 520 nanograms per gram of blueberries. The amount that berries contain depends on the specific type of berry. Other factors can also affect how much plants will contain, such as the growing conditions, maturity of the plant and when the plants/fruits are harvested.
Pterostilbene vs. Resveratrol
- Pterostilbene is structurally similar to resveratrol, another antioxidant compound that has similar health benefits.
- While it seems to be more potent and absorbable, there is currently much less research available on pterostilbene compared to research focusing on resveratrol.
- Resveratrol is found in foods and drinks, including red wine, mulberries, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries and dark chocolate/cocoa.
- Both have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties. They are both considered to be phytoalexin compounds, meaning they are produced by plants as a mechanism of defending themselves against predators like parasites, rodents and insects.
- One difference between these two compounds is that pterostilbene seems to be more easily absorbed from food sources. In animal studies, it has been shown to have about 80 percent bioavailability compared to 20 percent for resveratrol. Pterostilbene seems to have increased bioavailability due to the presence of two methoxy groups that help with oral absorption. (17)
Uses in Ayurveda and TCM
What has pterostilbene been used for in traditional systems of medicine? Both resveratrol and pterostilbene are found in darakchasava, an Ayurvedic medicine that has been used for centuries in India. (18) The main ingredient used to make darakchasavae is grapes (Vitis vinifera). This herbal remedy is given to people suffering from cancer and cardiovascular disorders because the phenolic compounds found in grapes are known to be antioxidants, cancer chemo-preventive agents and protectors against coronary heart disease.
The Kino tree (also called heartwood or the Malabar kino tree) is another source of pterostilbene that is utilized in Ayurvedic medicine. Bark from the kino tree is a main ingredient found in Vijaysar, an Ayurvedic “medicine” that offers protection against diabetes. Vijaysar has been used for over 1,000 years in Ayurveda to promote healthy blood sugar and loss of excess of body weight. It’s typically given in divided doses up to three times a day to provide “a sense of well being and prompt symptomatic relief.” (19)
Pterostilbene has been isolated in at least three plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Two of these plants are Sphaerophysa salsula, a shrub called “ku ma du” that is used for the treatment of hypertension, and Rheum palmatum, referred to as Chinese rhubarb or “da huang” that is used to treat digestive disorders. (20)
Another source in traditional systems of medicine practiced throughout Asia is Pterocarpus santalinus, which goes by the common names red sanders, red sandalwood and saunderswood. Pterocarpus santalinus is a red tree native to Southern India that is valued for its health-promoting bark. Its red wood yields a natural dye that is used as a food coloring and pharmaceutical preparation. “Heartwood” remedies that are made using the tree’s bark are associated with various medicinal properties, including helping to treat vomiting, indigestion and ulcers. Heartwood is said to have natural “anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic, tonic, hemorrhage, dysentery, aphrodisiac, and diaphoretic activities.” (21)
At this time, experts recommend getting pterostilbene from food sources as much as possible, rather than from supplements. Pterostilbene supplements are still beneficial, but they seem to have decreased bioavailability/absorption compared to food sources. Taking it as part of a meal may also help you absorb more, since taking it in a fasted state/on an empty stomach seems to reduce absorption.
Below are recipe ideas using foods that provide this beneficial compound:
- Healthy Blueberry Cobbler
- Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins
- Blueberry Pancakes
- 44 Creative Cranberry Recipes
- Cranberry Apple Cider
- Slow Cooker Grape Jelly Meatballs
Dosage and Supplements
How much pterostilbene should you take if you choose to to take it in supplement form? The recommended dosage depends on your body weight and reason for using it.
It appears that even low pterostilbene dosages in supplement form (extract, powder, etc.) have benefits when it comes to fighting oxidative stress and disease. In most human studies, pterostilbene dosages of about 200–700 milligrams or less are usually taken. Even as little as 10 milligrams may offer some benefits, but above 200 milligrams seems to have the most effects.
Unless your doctor advises taking a different pterostilbene dosage, it’s recommended that you take the following dose based on your body weight: (22)
- If you’re under or about 150 pounds, take 215–430 milligrams per day.
- If you’re about 200 pounds, take 290–580 milligrams per day.
- If you’re over 250 pounds, take between 365–730 milligrams daily. Don’t take more than this amount without speaking with your doctor first.
- Pterostilbene is a dimethylated derivative of resveratrol, an antioxidant that helps fight free radical damage.
- Blueberries, cranberries and red grapes are fruits known to contain this compound. It is also found in peanuts and many different types of plants of the Pterocarpus genus.
- Pterostilbene benefits include protecting against inflammation, oxidative stress, certain types of cancer, neurological disorders and memory loss, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
- While it seems to be very safe and non-toxic, even when taken in high doses, it seems to have the most benefits when taken in moderate doses between 200–700 milligrams daily. The best way to obtain it is from natural food sources, although extract/supplements may be helpful for improving markers of health.