They say you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy wine, and that’s kind of the same thing. But could drinking wine also be adding years to your life?
A small compound known as resveratrol might hold the key to this question.
Grapes have been hailed as a miracle cure since 1928, when Johanna Brandt published her popular book The Grape Cure, in which she claimed that a regime of fasting followed by the consumption of red grapes cured her of cancer, and could prove effective against a host of other diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and cataracts.
Resveratrol is a compound found in grapes, berries, and nuts, and commonly associated with red wine. It was first isolated in 1939 from white hellebore – a poisonous medicinal plant – by Michio Takaoka. In 1963, Nonomura, another Japanese scientist, isolated it from Japanese knotweed, whose roots had been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat cardiovascular diseases and liver ailments.
Indeed, the presence of resveratrol in grapevines was not elucidated until 1976, and its presence in wine was only found as recently as 1992 by Siemann and Creasy of Cornell University. This discovery has led to widespread speculations about wine consumption being a solution to the “French paradox”.
More recently, scientists at the Harvard Medical School, such as David Sinclair and Konrad Howitz, have shown that resveratrol can increase the lifespan of yeast cells and other species such as worms and fruit flies. The evidence for lifespan increases in mammals and humans has been inconclusive and is still largely debated, however.
Resveratrol in nature
Resveratrol is a stilbenoid existing as two geometric isomers: cis- and trans-. It is synthesized in some plant species as a response to infection, UV radiation, or injury, and is a member of the same family as pterostilbene, another related compound with the same action and superior bioavailability.
Resveratrol can be found in a large variety of natural foods, including grapes, peanuts, cocoa, and berries such as blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries. Red wine is thought to have higher levels of resveratrol than white wine, due to its high concentration in the skin of grapes, which are fermented during the production of red wine, giving it its characteristic colour.
The average concentration of resveratrol in red wine is 1.9±1.7 mg/liter of trans-resveratrol, with those made from the Pinot Noir and St Laurent grape varieties boasting the highest levels. Trans-resveratrol is more active than cis-resveratrol, and is thought to have more positive effects on inflammation and cancer proliferation than its isomer[10-11].
Due to its high reactivity, the bioavailability of resveratrol is very low, and several studies have shown that only around 10% of the average oral dose ends up in the blood serum[12-13]. The good news is that co-ingestion with other flavonoids, particularly quercetin has recently been found to increase resveratrol bioavailability[14-15], due to the competition of these molecules for the same metabolizing enzymes.
The presence of other bioflavonoids in wine has also been purported to increase the bioavailability of resveratrol, which makes reaching for that extra glass of wine in the evening all the more tempting.
However, compared to the amount of resveratrol present in typical dietary supplements (100mg and upwards) wine has very small amounts not to mention its poor bioavailability. It should probably not need stating, but we certainly do not recommend drinking excessively as this can lead to serious health problems and is a poor health and longevity strategy.
Potential Health Benefits
Resveratrol is one of the best studied flavonoids, particularly in the context of aging. Most mammal studies to date have been carried out in rats, however, and despite its popularity, only a relatively small number of clinical trials have been conducted in humans.
Due to its interaction with SIRT1 and adipocyte development, resveratrol has been proposed as a possible therapeutic agent for the improvement of cardiovascular disease. In recent years, supplementation with resveratrol has been shown to decrease LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels, and apolipoprotein-B in patients with CVD[18-19].
Resveratrol has also been thought to have great therapeutic potential for metabolic syndrome and obesity, and some studies have shown it to have a beneficial effect on glucose metabolism, as well as temporarily increasing insulin sensitivity in diabetics[20-21]. In obese subjects, resveratrol confers a protective and antioxidant effect[22-23], and reduces resting metabolic rate by a mechanism which mimics calorie restriction.
Recently, it has been proven to stimulate fat metabolism by increasing cyclic adenosine monophosphate (a derivative of ATP) in cells through a mechanism analogous to that used by known fat burners such as caffeine and green tea catechins.
In patients with colorectal cancer treated with resveratrol, tumor cell proliferation seems to be reduced after surgery, while chemoprotective effects have also been found for breast cancer.
In 1997, a landmark study indicated that the topical application of resveratrol acted as a powerful chemopreventive treatment for skin cancer, and recent studies have shown that resveratrol is a very effective UV-filter for use in sunscreens, particularly in combination with other antioxidants.
The longevity effects of resveratrol in humans, although potentially appreciable, are still being contested, and the latest reviews have suggested that resveratrol may be enhancing lifespan by reducing the risk of common causes of death such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, rather than extending lifespan per se.
It has also been proposed that it is its interaction with AMPK and NAD+, not SIRT1 as previously thought, that may be the primary cause of its longevity effects[30-32].
This article is only a very brief summary, and is not intended as an exhaustive guide and is based on the interpretation of research data, which is speculative by nature. This article is not a substitute for consulting your physician about which supplements may or may not be right for you. We do not endorse supplement use or any product or supplement vendor and all discussion here is for scientific interest.
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