Found in red wine, resveratrol may be the first real antiaging drug -- but don't drink to your health just yet
It seems too good to be true: A drug that would let you eat all the bread, cheese, cream sauce and red meat you wanted without risking coronary disease, while at the same time decreasing insulin levels, decreasing blood pressure, increasing good cholesterol and extending your lifespan to a degree normally achieved through strict dieting.
New research suggests that resveratrol, a compound in red wine, could do all this and possibly more. Writer Shannon Klie explores the research in an extensive report on resveratrol published this week on Betterhumans.com.
Resveratrol first gained recognition for its possible role in the French Paradox -- the fact that the fatty food-consuming French have low levels of heart disease. It is now gaining attention as an antiaging compound that could have the same impact as an extremely low-calorie diet.
"We hope we will be able to mimic the effects of caloric restriction," says researcher David Sinclair of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, who along with researcher Konrad Howitz first identified resveratrol's ability to extend lifespan. Mimicking caloric restriction, says Sinclair, "would mean that people would be much healthier in their old age and could possibly live many years longer, free of disease."
Resveratrol is a polyphenol and phytoalexin. Polyphenols act like antioxidants and protect the body against free radicals, which contribute to tissue damage. Phytoalexins are a type of antibiotic that protects plants against disease.
A 1992 study found that resveratrol protects against heart disease and other aging-related illnesses. In 1997, researchers found that it fights cancer. Such studies have led to an explosion of resveratrol supplements on the market.
But the compound isn't without controversy. This April, for example, researchers found that it doesn't appear to enter the bloodstream. And since there haven't been any clinical trials done in mice or humans with resveratrol pills, it's too early to tell whether or not they actually work and what their long-term effects on humans might be.
So is this another supplement scam? Not necessarily. As Klie reports, evidence continues to mount that resveratrol pills -- at least, some of them -- may extend lifespan. This includes evidence from new studies showing that the longevity enzyme Sirt1, activated by a low-calorie diet, is also activated by resveratrol.
But while such studies are promising, they're just the beginning. "While I can show with little or no room for doubt that pure resveratrol is an effective activator of Sirt1 enzyme," says Howitz, "getting an answer on whether resveratrol has an antiaging effect in mice will take several years."
Getting an answer in humans will take even longer. So for now, it's buyer beware.
READ THE FULL REPORT
June 28, 2004
We published an important report about resveratrol at Betterhumans today, "Longevity Uncorked?" by Shannon Klie. A press release was issued to accompany the report: