Biology / Health / Science

Life extension through red wine?

Probably everyone has heard that red wine is potentially healthy for you, at least in moderation. That goes a little against the grain when you consider that alcohol is generally not considered healthy — but that’s easy to resolve: the main healthy compound in red wine that scientists are researching is not the alcohol, but a substance called resveratrol, found in the skins of red grapes.

So, how does it work? Resveratrol is thought to help activate genes called sirtuins. Sirtuins are part of the nutrient sensing pathway of our cells, and that’s how resveratrol helps boost your health: it mimics the (well-known) effects of caloric restriction.

Proposed pathway of sirtuin activation

Image via https://www.caymanchem.com/news/sirtuins-to-your-health

To summarise the diagram above, drinking resveratrol sets off a series of reactions leading to higher levels of AMPK, which normally occur when you’re low on calories. It’s a lot more complex than this in practice, but basically, if you get enough resveratrol, it’s the same as going on a calorie restricted diet, setting you up with the kind of metabolism that will see you through to when you’re ninety or more. C. elegans worms get days added to their lifespan when exposed to appropriate amounts of resveratrol, and it can improve your overall health as well.

Should you go and chug bottle after bottle of red wine? Probably not. There’s plenty of other stuff in red wine, so it’s not like drinking pure resveratrol, and the effects of resveratrol itself have tended to be modest in studies. Good old fashioned caloric restriction is probably a more sustainable way to go, with proven benefits regardless of your physical type.

There are resveratrol supplements available, but clinical data is somewhat lacking and we don’t know what an effective human dose looks like, or whether too much might do more harm than good — it’s nothing new that some compounds that are good for you in small doses become dangerous in excess.

The good news is, the data seems to show that resveratrol can be benefical even in small amounts: in C. elegans, the survival benefits weren’t as dramatic with a lower dose, but they were still noticeable. So by all means, eat a healthy diet with a little red wine: it probably is good for your heart — and every other part of you, and in moderation it can’t hurt. Be wary of anyone promises a miracle in terms of life extension, though. Trust me, the scientists won’t stop shouting about it once they’re sure.

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