What has been called “The French Paradox” is the notion that the French eat much more high-fat foods compared to Americans, yet have three times less heart disease. The answer is now thought to be because of the copious quantities of red wine the French consume.
How great is that?
The skin of red-wine grapes is the most abundant source of a compound called resveratrol, a unique antioxidant that red grapes produce in great amounts as a defense against threats such as fungi and cold temperatures. Pinot noir varieties have the highest amount.1 And, since it’s produced in cooler, wetter areas, pinot noirs from Washington state, Oregon and upstate New York have the highest amounts.
Five published research studies on the red-wine molecule resveratrol in the last two months of 2006 led to front-page coverage in The New York Times and a marked increase of consumer interest in the supplement.
In separate, independent research at Harvard University and elsewhere around the world, researchers reported that resveratrol can extend life span and offset the bad effects of a high-fat diet, improve physical endurance and stamina, prevent damage to the heart during a heart attack, protect the brain from toxic chemical insult, block prostate-cancer incidence, and may have therapeutic value against Alzheimer’s disease.2
Lead Harvard researcher David Sinclair, PhD, started by putting resveratrol into Petri dishes with yeast cells – the yeast lived 70 percent longer than normal. Then he tested fruit flies. Then worms. Then mice. Then monkeys. All to great effect.
It is estimated that, if tested on humans for the whole of their lives, we could live to be 125 years old.
Its effects come from its ability to mimic calorie restriction, which activates the Sirtuin-1 gene. This gene is turned on when the life form is exposed to harsh conditions, such as grapes in the cold fog. This activity prolongs the time cells have in which to repair their damaged genetic material. Presto – increased life span. Sinclair used his research to found his own company, called Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which he later sold to pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline for an eye-popping $700 million … which says much about the potential of resveratrol.
So is resveratrol really the fountain of youth? Ponce de Leon would be smiling. David Sinclair sure is. You might be, too.
UPDATE: In 2011, Hungarian researchers gave 19 people who were type-2 diabetics either resveratrol supplements (two 5 milligram doses from Argina Nutraceuticals, Hungary) or placebo. After four weeks, those getting the resveratrol showed a significant decrease in insulin resistance, compared to the placebo group.3
In other words, resveratrol taken daily may improve how the human body responds to insulin, the hormone responsible for sugar and fat metabolism.
1. Friedlander BP Jr. Higher levels of resveratrol found among NY red wines. Cornell Chronicle 1998:2:5.
2. Marambaud P, et al. Resveratrol promotes clearance of Alzheimer’s disease amyloid-beta peptides. J Biol Chem 2005; (E-pub ahead of print.]
3. P Brasnyo, et al. Resveratrol improves insulin sensitivity, reduces oxidative stress and activates the Akt pathway in type 2 diabetic patients.British Journal of Nutrition, published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1017/S0007114511000316
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