Holding Back the Clock: A Chemical in Red Wine Could Add Years to Life
Could it be? Might a chemical found in the skin of ordinary red grapes and peanuts allow the body to shrug off the damage exacted by diabetes and heart disease, even Alzheimer'sand add years to life? A new study in the journal Nature offers a tantalizing taste of just that. But don't stock the wine cellar just yet.
In the study, one group of year-old lab micemiddle age for these animalswere put on a high-calorie, high-fat diet, and dosed with resveratrol, the chemical in red grape skins. Another group got the same diet but no resveratrol, and a third group got an ordinary diet and no resveratrol. The overfed mice soon ballooned to obesity, and the fat mice that did not also get resveratrol began to die at an accelerated rate.
The tubby mice on resveratrol, however, fared far better. Glucose and insulin in their blood, which at high concentrations foretell diabetes in human beings, were at much lower levels than in the fat no-resveratrol mice. And they kept on going like the Energizer bunny. More than a year after the experiment began, their death rate was about the same as for the svelte mice on an ordinary diet. The resveratrol, says lead coauthor David Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School molecular biologist, had reversed almost all of the genetic paths that lead to aging. "I try not to overpromise, but the data do look pretty spectacular," says Sinclair. "They surprised me."
To get an amount of resveratrol equivalent to what the mice received would require a person to guzzle hundreds of glasses of red wine a day. It would be feasible, however, to concoct pills that would deliver the needed dose without having to swallow scores of them. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which Sinclair cofounded, hopes to announce within six months or so a different chemical that acts like resveratrol but is 1,000 times more potent.
The possibility of life-extending pills that bring new hope to those with killer diseases has made eyes snap open in labs that are investigating the genetics of metabolism. But "fuzzy mice are not humans," cautions Andrew Greenberg, director of the obesity and metabolism laboratory at Tufts University in Boston. "This is provocative and exciting, but we're a long way from humans. We need much more safety information." Some of that may come from a safety study underway at Sirtris of 90 people with diabetes who are getting resveratrol. Results from that study will be available by the middle of next year. Meanwhile, enjoy a daily glass or two of red winebut not because it will lengthen your life.