Sunday, August 19, 2007
We were pleased to inform you a couple of weeks ago -- was it a couple of weeks? A couple of months, maybe. Or a couple of days? Sometime, at any rate, not long ago -- that champagne, guzzled in sufficient volume, with sufficient frequency, can help stave off the ravages of senility. But the ostraconophobes among us need not despair: according to researcher David Sinclair, the big meaty reds with which we wash down our big meaty entrees have an equally salubrious effect on the human, or at least the murine, constitution:
Sinclair's basic claim is simple, if seemingly improbable: he has found an elixir of youth. In his Australian drawl, the 38-year-old Harvard University professor of pathology explains how he discovered that resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, extends life span in mice by up to 24 percent and in other animals, including flies and worms, by as much as 59 percent. Sinclair hopes that resveratrol will bump up the life span of people, too. "The system at work in the mice and other organisms is evolutionarily very old, so I suspect that what works in mice will work in humans," he says.Fifteen hundred?? Work to do. Fortunately, we brought our trusty corkscrew. À votre santé!
Sinclair thinks resveratrol works by activating SIRT1, a gene that many scientists believe plays a fundamental role in regulating life span in animals. Biologists have found that increasing the expression of SIRT1 slows aging and fends off maladies associated with growing old, including cancer and heart disease. If Sinclair is right, and resveratrol can activate SIRT1--and if the gene does in fact help control aging--he has found something truly remarkable . . . .
Sinclair says his bravado and drive come from his grandmother Vera, who fled to Australia in the wake of the failed 1956 revolution in her native Hungary. Her son, David's father, changed the family name from Szigeti. "My grandmother is the black-sheep rebel of the family," he says. "She gave birth to my dad at age 15 in 1939--imagine the scandal then--and has lived with natives in New Guinea and eaten human flesh, among other things. She once got in trouble with the police for being the first person to wear a bikini on a Sydney beach. She's a '60s bohemian who helped raise me and taught me how to think differently and to question dogma" . . . .
Mice live about two to three years; when I first visited Sinclair's lab, in 2005, his test mice were about a year old. Sinclair was already ecstatic, because the resveratrol-fed mice seemed healthier than the controls; their cells were also aging remarkably slowly, even though the mice were being fed a fatty, unhealthy diet. When the paper on these experiments came out the following year in Nature, the results supported the claims Sinclair had been making about resveratrol in mammals. They showed that mice on a high-fat diet fed large doses of resveratrol were as healthy as mice on a regular diet. Resveratrol also improved the mice's insulin sensitivity and increased their energy production.
The mice were given very high doses of resveratrol--22 milligrams per kilogram of weight. In comparison, a liter of red wine delivers 1.5 to 3 milligrams. To consume resveratrol at the same rate as the mice, a 150-pound human would need to drink roughly 1,500 bottles of wine (or take scores of pills) each day.