Anti-aging enthusiasts have been in a lather in recent years about the chemical resveratrol, present in red wine. For one thing, low levels of heart disease among French people (despite all the cheese and butter they eat) could be due to the red wine they also enjoy in liberal quantities, scientists say -- maybe because of the resveratrol. Resveratrol may also mimic the life extension seen when animals are fed diets low in calories.
But the question has been: Would you have to swallow unrealistically huge quantities via pills or wine to get the effect? Maybe not, a new study suggests.
Scientists recently showed that if you fed resveratrol to obese mice eating a high-fat diet, they'd stay as healthy and spry -- and live just as long -- as mice that were fed a low-fat diet and stayed lean. They also showed that mice fed resveratrol became super-duper athletes, running twice as far on little treadmills as their non-resveratrol-fed brethren. The hitch: In such studies, animals were fed a truckload of resveratrol, the equivalent of a person drinking 100 bottles of wine a day. (Doctors, and one's liver, would frown on this.)
The new study, conducted by scientists in academia and industry and published this week in the journal Public Library of Science One -- an odd-sounding name, but there you go -- found that middle-aged mice fed far lower levels of resveratrol than in that older study also received significant benefits, or at least what seemed to be benefits. Normally, as hearts get older, certain genes in their tissues switch off, and other genes switch on. In the study, resveratrol-fed mice exhibited a lot less of these aging-related gene changes, implying that the aging process was being slowed. The gene-change retardation was similar to that seen with animals kept on a calorie-restricted diet.
This isn't the same as proving that resveratrol stops heart attacks or makes a mouse live longer, far less a human being. But it's encouraging. "This brings down the dose of resveratrol toward the consumption reality mode," says the paper's senior author, Richard Weindruch, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in a news release.
Study lead author Jamie Barger of the company LifeGen Technologies explained in an email that the resveratrol dose the mice got was 4.9 milligrams/kilogram of body weight -- which would make the equivalent human dose 350 milligrams for an average-sized person -- or 35 bottles of wine a day (!). But Barger says you could get the number down to maybe four to five daily glasses based on a couple other factors -- one of which is the fact that red wine contains other potentially beneficial resveratrol-like chemicals. "I think we would all agree that this much consumption might be excessive," Barger wrote. "Right now it's important to note that (a) we have shown for the first time that a low dose of resveratrol has clear effects on cardiovascular aging, and (b) further studies may show that an effective dose might even be lower than what we tested in the current study."
Also of interest: Drug companies are working on chemicals that may mimic resveratrol -- but more powerfully. You can read more about resveratrol here.
* P.S. Resveratrol can be taken as a supplement, of course -- also as a strange beverage I just realized I had sitting on my desk. It's called Reversitall Plus, and a company called NeoCell sent it to me some months back. It looks just like a bottle of wine, and according to the blurb on it, it contains 2,000 micrograms of resveratrol per serving. This, by the calculations above, doesn't sound like enough -- but by now my head is spinning with these numbers and, what the heck. Three of us poured it into plastic cups and knocked it back.
Yow. Blah! Sorry. This reminded me of a tonic my grandma made me take. Wine for me, thanks.
Photo: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times