Monday, June 28, 2004
Betterhumans > Longevity Uncorked?:To understand the hope and controversy around resveratrol, you have to start in France—the land of wine and cheese.

For years, no one understood why the French, who eat a diet rich in fatty foods, have a 30% lower incidence of heart disease than North Americans. They were also confounded as to why just 7% of French adults are obese compared to 22% of Americans. This phenomenon, known as the French Paradox, was discovered in the 1970s but was first brought to the attention of the North American public in 1991 in a 60 Minutes' special. The revelation prompted various studies to uncover the solution to the paradox.

In 1992, in a study published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, researchers Evan Siemann of Rice University in Texas and Glen Creasy of Lincoln University in New Zealand reported that resveratrol, found in red wine, protects against heart disease and other aging-related illnesses. In 1997, a group of scientists led by John Pezzuto in the Functional Foods for Health Program at the University of Illinois found that resveratrol acts as a potent cancer-fighting agent in mice.

Such findings suggested that resveratrol might explain the French Paradox. Others have shown that resveratrol and similar plant molecules may offer health benefits by affecting the absorption of unhealthy food constituents in the gut, either inhibiting their absorption or stimulating them to break down before they can be taken up.

The longevity connection

It wasn't until recently, however, that researchers started to figure out how resveratrol might extend lifespan.

In 2003, researchers at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts and BIOMOL, a private company in Plymouth Meeting, Philadelphia, discovered that resveratrol extends the lifespan of yeast, roundworms and fruit flies—all used as laboratory models of human aging and disease. Resveratrol was identified after researchers Konrad Howitz and David Sinclair tested hundreds of small molecules to determine if any had the ability to extend the lifespan of yeast. They discovered that resveratrol was the most potent, extending yeast average lifespan by 70%.

Resveratrol acts by stimulating a class of enzymes called sirtuins, which inhibit some genes, stimulate others and repair DNA damage, keeping cells alive and ultimately prolonging an organism's lifespan. Scientists have discovered that sirtuins can be activated and lifespan extended by decreasing animals' food consumption about 30% while providing proper nourishment—caloric restriction with adequate nutrition. They think that sirtuins evolved to lend a survival advantage to organisms during stressful periods such as food scarcity.

Hi! Glen Creasy here! Please note that it wasn't me that did this study with Evan Siemann, but my Dad, Leroy Creasy, and they were both working at Cornell University at the time...
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