The compound that makes red wine a healthful drink may also hold the secret to a longer life, scientists reported on Wednesday.
They found that resveratrol acted on fruit flies and worms in the same way as a method known to extend the life of animals including monkeys - sharply restricting how much they eat.
The finding opens the possibility that people could take a pill to achieve the same benefits as strict dieting to live longer, healthier lives, said David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School in Boston, who led the study.
“We found this chemical that can extend the life span of every organism we give it to,” Sinclair said in a telephone interview. “We hope we can soon see molecules that treat diseases of aging, like diabetes for example. ... We really can have our cake and eat it, too.”
Writing in the journal Nature, Sinclair and colleagues at the University of Connecticut and Brown University in Rhode Island said they were looking for some compound that would affect the body the way caloric restriction does.
Scientists have learned molecules called Sir2-like proteins or sirtuins, found in creatures ranging from bacteria to humans, are involved in the anti-aging effects of restricting calories.
“We were looking for molecules that would stick to and activate this sirtuin protein,” Sinclair said.
One clearly worked better than the others.
“When I realized it was a molecule from red wine I almost fell out of my seat. This is the molecule people suspect is behind the health benefits of red wine. It’s uncanny.”
‘JUST AS ACTIVE’
Last year, Sinclair reported resveratrol extended the life of yeast. Now he has tested it in fruit flies and tiny worms, both of which share many basic biologic processes with humans.
“If you give these compounds to these animals they are healthier and longer-lived, and just as active. They can eat as much as they like and they live considerably longer,” said Sinclair.
Flies are complex enough animals to answer questions about fertility and weight gain, Sinclair said. Restricting calories has been shown to make animals such as dogs and monkeys live longer, but they are often lethargic and lose fertility.
“These flies, instead of being infertile, they produced more eggs per day.”
Sinclair has a vested interest in his findings. He has formed a company to exploit his findings, called Sirtris. He has already developed a product called Longevinex, which concentrates resveratrol into a pill.
He is now testing his compound in mice, which are considerably closer to humans biologically than fruit flies are.
“If it works in mice I would be pretty confident it would work in people,” Sinclair said.
He denied he wanted to market a pill simply to extend life.
“Often people are scared we are going to lengthen the life span of aging people and make them live in nursing homes,” he said. “What we are doing is finding molecules that potentially will increase the health span of people, not just their life spans.”
SOURCE: Nature, July 15, 2004.
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD