September 22, 2011
Scientists Question Resveratrol Longevity Products
New research suggests that anti-ageing face creams and supplements, that actively use a 'miracle ingredient' commonly found in red wine, are a complete waste of time and money, and do nothing to improve your odds of living a longer life.
Resveratrol, which is credited with many of the health benefits of red wine, has become a staple for several beauty companies and is used in numerous products that can fetch prices of up to several hundreds of dollars for just a small amount.
The study, published in the journal Nature, debunks previous claims that sirtuin genes -- an enzyme thought to be activated by the use of Resveratrol -- can increase lifespan. Researchers report that over-expressing a sirtuin gene in two model organisms -- the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster -- does not boost longevity as had been previously reported. The authors argue that the longer lifespan seen in past studies was the result of unrelated mutations within the experimental strains.
Both earthworms and fruit flies have been commonly used in the past as models to examine the biology of human ageing. Past research suggested that an extra dose of the naturally-occurring enzymes could prolong life by up to 50 percent. But the new research could not replicate those results.
Resveratrol supplements are available at health food stores and drug companies are making tablets based on resveratrol. All of the concoctions stem from research claiming that resveratrol triggers sirtuin genes, that in turn prolong life. But according to the new study, there is no solid proof backing up this claim.
David Gems, a researcher at the Institute of Healthy Ageing at the University College London, led the new study, which provides solid evidence that the relationship between the proteins and longer life is an illusion.
"We have re-examined the key experiments linking sirtuin with longevity in animals and none seem to stand up to close scrutiny," Gems told AFP in a statement. "Sirtuins, far from being a key to longevity, appear to have nothing to do with extending life."
Leonard Guarante of MIT, who was behind some of the previous research, acknowledged in the journal Nature that his earlier work had been flawed.
Although, he does maintain that the longevity link is real and that the new research is just a "bump in the road." He said his results "have been replicated in other labs."
"Studies on yeast lifespan were the first to cast doubt on the role of sirtuins in longevity," noted Carles Canto and Johan Auwerx from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.
They wrote in Nature that the new study should end the debate on the link between sirtuins and anti-ageing. But even though sirtuins are not the fountain of youth everyone had hoped for, they may still confer important health benefits, they added.
The enzymes have been shown to protect mammals -- most notably in mice -- from metabolic damage caused by high-fat diets and age-related diseases.
"SIRT1 [the main sirtuin protein] activation remains a promising approach to delaying general age-related physiological decline and to treating numerous inherited and acquired diseases," Canto and Auwerx wrote.
Gems, who has also studied the links between anti-oxidants -- another ingredient found in many anti-ageing face creams and supplements -- and ageing, said that it would be much simpler for people to just quit smoking, lose weight and exercise more.
"There is a lot of stuff that doesn't work. There are a lot of swindlers, a lot of ways of detaching you from your money. Be very cautious," said Gems.
Stephen Helfand, a molecular geneticist at Brown University in Rhode Island, who conducted the original fruit fly research, said he was surprised by the findings in Gems' research.
"Our published studies directly and completely address the genetic background concern," he said, pointing to a 2009 study, published in the journal Ageing, in which his team used a different method to over-express Sir24. In that work, the Sir24 gene was over-expressed when the fruit flies were fed a chemical trigger, and Helfand's team compared genetically identical flies with and without the compound.
"This approach completely removes concerns about any potential genetic background," said Helfand.
GlaxoSmithKline in 2008 paid $720 million to buy Sirtris, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Mass., that was developing drugs to stimulate sirtuin. GSK declined to comment on the new study, but issued a statement emphasizing Sirtis' focus on boosting health and fighting age-related diseases rather than lengthening lifespan.
"These two publications in lower-order species do not have any direct impact on the understanding of the role of sirtuins in human health and disease nor in our drug discovery efforts targeting these enzymes," said the statement.
Gems said that his work doesn't mean there will never be an anti-ageing pill. There are other possibilities out there, including some potentially 'amazing' pills in the works. While they may not extend life, they could make old age healthier and happier.
On the Net:
- Institute of Healthy Ageing, University College London
- Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
- Brown University