August 29, 2008
Red Wine Ingredient Slows Aging Process, Study Shows
By Sandy Kleffman
It's not exactly a fountain of youth, but a substance found in red wine, grapes and nuts can prevent many age-related problems in mice, an intriguing new study reveals.
The substance, resveratrol, led to healthier hearts, better bone density, fewer cataracts and greater motor coordination in the animals.
The findings, published online Thursday in Cell Metabolism, may increase interest in resveratrol as scientists seek to ward off the inevitable deterioration that comes with growing older.
"It slowed down substantially some of the main components of the aging process," said Rafael de Cabo, one of the study authors. Cabo is a scientist with the Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology at the National Institute on Aging, which helped fund the research.
"We saw a big impact on overall health, but not on longevity," he said. "So that is an indication that not all of the aging-related processes were affected by resveratrol."
Resveratrol is an ingredient of red wine, grapes, red grape juices, blueberries, peanuts, peanut butter, pistachios and other foods.
It is not known whether the substance would produce the same effect in human beings as it did in mice, or what the right dosage would be for people with varying weights and conditions.
In other words, gorging on resveratrol-containing foods will not provide an elixir of youth, scientists stressed.
"You're not going to be able to get the kinds of levels that these mice got by altering your diet," said Dr. Stephen Bonasera, an assistant professor in the division of geriatrics at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center.
Duplicating the dosage given to mice, for example, would require drinking hundreds of bottles of wine per day.
"There's really nothing in this study yet that says it's time for us to start taking resveratrol," he said.
But Bonasera, who was not involved with the study, said the findings add one more important clue about how scientists may someday be able to delay the physiological changes that come with aging.
"This is a nice new molecule that people are going to be able to play with and alter to meet our needs," he said.
The research is a followup to a 2006 study that found resveratrol improved health and longevity in overweight, aged mice.
In the latest study, researchers gave resveratrol to middle-aged mice that were obese or had normal weights. Both groups later had reduced cholesterol, less inflammation in the heart and better- functioning aortas than a control group that did not receive the chemical.
The treated animals also had better bone density, reduced formation of cataracts and enhanced balance and motor coordination.
Despite such improvements, the nonobese, resveratrol-receiving animals did not live longer than the untreated mice. Cabo speculated that this may be because the resveratrol treatment began in middle age.
Researchers also examined how the chemical affected mice that were fed a standard diet, a high-calorie diet, or had an every- other-day feeding regimen. Other studies have shown that reducing calories has many healthful, anti-aging results.
This latest study revealed that resveratrol can mimic many of the positive changes that occur with such a reduced-calorie diet, Cabo said.
Because sharply restricting calories can be difficult, scientists are looking for alternatives that can produce the same results, said Marc Hellerstein, a professor of nutrition at UC Berkeley and professor of medicine at UCSF.
"I don't think resveratrol is going to be the best agent in this class," he said. "Most people feel it's not a very powerful agent. I don't think resveratrol is likely to be the ultimate answer to this."
The 2006 resveratrol study received widespread publicity and prompted an increase in companies selling resveratrol supplements. But scientists warned that people should proceed with caution since the supplements are largely unregulated and there could be safety concerns.
"We don't know how they're prepared," Bonasera said. "This has not been tested by the FDA. This has not been tested in people necessarily."
Doing a rough calculation, Bonasera estimated that people may have to consume 6 or more grams a day of resveratrol to get a dosage similar to that given to mice. By contrast, a large calcium pill contains 1.2 grams.
"You always worry that when people get large doses of a chemical that you can get reactions," he said. "That's a concern."
Cabo agreed, saying a lot more research is needed before he can recommend that people take resveratrol.
"It is a very interesting molecule with a lot of potential, but we need to know a lot more about it before we can say it's great for diabetes or it's great for obesity," he said.
But he noted that many of the resveratrol-containing foods have proven benefits aside from resveratrol.
"We've been recommending this from a health perspective all along," he said. "Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is going to take you a long way."
Reach Sandy Kleffman at 925-943-8249 or [email protected]
Originally published by Sandy Kleffman, Contra Costa Times.
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