Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

A Nature podcast today details new fascinating research about a pill that may extend lifespan by up to 20%. Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, is the only compound that has lengthened the life of every organism its been given to: yeast, worms, flies, and now mice. And, most recently, David Sinclair of Harvard University has results that show that this compound can also combat the ill health effects of a high-fat (“McDonald’s”) diet in mammals. Mice that were given a high-fat diet as well as Resveratrol lived as long as mice that were fed a healthy balanced diet. Even more interesting is the fact that the mice were not administered Resveratrol until they were 1 year old (the equivalent of a 40-year-old human), which means that the compound is effective at later stages in life presumably after the effects of an unhealthy diet have taken a toll. According to Dr. Sinclair, the compound “improves the chances of survival by 30% on any given day.”

Post-mortem examination of these “McDonald’s” mice has revealed huge differences between those given Resveratrol and those who didn’t receive it. First, the McDonald’s mice who received none of the compound had large fatty livers (steotosis) while the ones that received Resveratrol did not. They were indistinguishable from normal livers. In addition, the cardiovascular system of the McDonald’s mice where clogged and marked by atherosclerosis, while the mice given Resveratrol looked normal and healthy. Humans exhibit these same symptoms when they have a high-fat diet, so this is very promising that his research may have direct applicability.

The hypothesis is that Resveratrol activates gene pathways which are related to longevity, specifically an enzyme called SIRT1. Mice that lack SIRT1 (knockouts) have a shorter lifespan and more developmental defects compared to wildtype mice. It has been postulated that SIRT1 proteins likely promote survival and stress resistance in times of adversity, and that the compound Resveratrol activates SIRT1 protein production.

This might help explain the so-called “French Paradox,” where regular consumption of red wine is credited with reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease among a people whose diet includes large amounts of saturated fats. While moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages seems to be beneficial to overall health, consumption of red wine confers the most significant benefits to cardiovascular health. This new discovery might help explain why.

Press release here.


  1. #1 blipey, FCD
    November 1, 2006

    Very interesting. The more research done, the more super-cool things we know. If only everyone looked at life’s possibilities like that, what a great place the world would be.

    Any word on the fantastic benefits of drinking porters and Scottish Ales? Or the occasional single malt whisky? These are studies that need to be done!

  2. #2 Eric Irvine
    November 1, 2006

    Does strong grape juice have the same drug? I don’t do alchohol 😛

  3. #3 Evil Monkey
    November 2, 2006

    It’s a polyphenolic compound found in grape skins. It should be present in grape juice, although the extent to which it might be removed/destroyed through commercial processing escapes me. White grape juice, like white wine, likely will have little to no resveratrol.

  4. #4 Leslie in CA
    November 2, 2006

    I had the same question about the grape juice, since I’m allergic to molds & fungi and can’t drink wine. I hope future research will measure the amount of resveratrol present in red grape juice vs. red wine.

    Great blog, btw.

  5. #5 blipey, FCD
    November 2, 2006

    I recall a study done a couple years ago that found that grape juice does not have the same effect, even though the same compound was present. Something to do with the fermentation process or something…. I can’t find a reference to it, so maybe someone can help out.

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    November 2, 2006

    Yes, I also believe its the fermentation process that is responsible. However, those that do not enjoy alcoholic drinks could take it in supplement (pill) form.

  7. #7 David
    November 2, 2006

    Haven’t looked for the academic reference yet, but there is this mention in The Age

    For those who can’t drink alcohol for health or religious reasons, there is grape juice that delivers resveratrol without the alcohol. In fact a study at the University of California, Davis, found that the antioxidants present in grape juice stayed in the body longer than those found in wine. And if you don’t like the taste of grape juice – switch to cranberry juice. Researchers at Laval University in Quebec revealed that cranberry juice shielded the heart better than red wine or grape juice.

    It’s likely to be a tad difficult to make a reasonable comparison, with all these hyped media reports floating about – It would require, you know, actually looking up the papers.

    It seems Resveratrol is available as a health supplement, BTW, though isn’t approved as a drug by the FDA. The thereapeutic benefits also likely depend upon how quickly Resveratrol is eliminated from the body.

  8. #8 mike
    November 2, 2006

    From what I remember resveratrol undergoes rapid glucurondation and sulfation in humans. Ignoring that, the trans form is quickly converted to the cis form in light, the former of which being the much preferred form.

  9. #9 Alex
    November 3, 2006

    I don’t think resveratrol affects SIRT1 protein levels, it’s believed to alter its deacteylation activity, as measured through acetylation levels and activities of SIRT1 targets.

  10. #10 asg
    November 4, 2006

    Has anyone thought of correlation versus causality? Resveratrol is given to these animals at very high doses, how about non-specific effects?

  11. #11 Joy
    February 24, 2009

    yes wine is good for health!

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