Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Red wine compound resveratrol supports anti-cancer therapy

Resveratrol, for all appearances the miracle molecule from red wine, has disappointed on several research fronts but don’t count it out just yet. In the right amounts it may be an important part of an anti-cancer diet, but the story now is synergy: compounds working together in ways that enhance their effectiveness. Evidence has been slowly coming to light in recent years that the compounds in red wine amplify each other’s health benefits, explaining why studies continue to support the benefits of moderate drinking but supplements often fail in clinical tests. New research demonstrating how resveratrol supports the anti-cancer drug rapamycin provides another example of synergy.


Rapamycin , derived from a bacterium first found in the soil on Easter Island (hence the name, from Rapa Nui, the original name of the island), is clinically used as an anti-immune drug for organ transplantation. Its anti-cancer capabilities are being explored, in particular for breast cancer. But as with other therapies, drug resistance can develop, and here’s where resveratrol comes in. Resveratrol appears to prevent this resistance from developing when given along with rapamycin, at least in the lab. This points to one of the more interesting properties of resveratrol, which pulls off this feat with a range of other drugs and tumor types, rendering them more sensitive and preventing resistance from emerging. All this is preliminary of course, pending long-term clinical trials.

But rapamycin is emerging as an interesting player in the anti-aging arena too. Because of its anti-immune properties and general toxicity, it is not practical as an anti-aging intervention, but its actions at the molecular level reveal a pathway that could lead to practical therapies. Recall that resveratrol was thought to be able to activate the same enzymes (sirtuins) responsible for a longevity effect, but was unable to do so in mammals (like we humans.) But rapamycin does extend life in lab rats, via a more direct pathway.

So don’t give up on resveratrol just yet, despite the many questions about its future. Given its propensity for working well with others, the smart money is on whole wine for anti-aging and combination therapy for cancer.

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