Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Revisiting resveratrol: new findings rekindle anti-aging debate

Just when we thought the bloom was off the rosé for resveratrol, the anti-oxidant polyphenol from red wine with multiple anti-aging properties, along comes new research giving life to the debate. But first a bit of background: As I detailed in my book Age Gets Better with Wine, it is well-documented that wine drinkers live longer and have lower rates of many diseases of aging. Much or the credit for this has been given to resveratrol, though there isn’t nearly enough of it in wine to explain the effects. Nevertheless, I dubbed it the “miracle molecule” and when it was reported to activate a unique life-extension phenomenon via a genetic trigger called SIRT, an industry was born, led by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, quickly acquired by pharma giant Glaxo. The hope was that resveratrol science could lead to compounds enabling people to live up to 150 years and with a good quality of life.

But alas, researchers from other labs could not duplicate the results, and clinical studies disappointed. After a few short years, Glaxo pulled the plug on the project. But SIRT still seemed to be a key to lifespan extension even if resveratrol was not a direct activator of it. But the latest study from the Sirtris/Glaxo scientists suggests that maybe resveratrol may play a role here after all, at least on individual cells under laboratory conditions. Whether this applies to clinical use of resveratrol (or routine use of resveratrol supplements) remains speculative however.

Which brings us back to the central question of wine and health. Because the amount of resveratrol in wine is much lower than levels required to produce effects on cells in the lab, whatever benefits accrue to wine consumption cannot be attributed to resveratrol. So for now I will continue to take my medicine in the liquid and more palatable form.