Wine of Life

THE French paradox refers to the fact that people in France suffer relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease, despite their diet being rich in saturated fats. The phenomenon was first noted by Irish physician Samuel Black in 1819.

The apparent paradox has been attributed to red wine. Subsequent studies however, found that the answer to the “French Paradox” is actually Resveratrol found in red wine.

Resveratrol is a member of a group of compounds called phytoalexins. Grapes and other plants produce Resveratrol as a protective measure during times of stress, bad weather, or poor nutrient availability. It is also produced by the plant as protection against fungal and other diseases. Grapes sprayed with pesticides contain little, if any Resveratrol. Grapes grown in dry climates have less Resveratrol than those grown in humid areas.

Generally, most wines contain either no Resveratrol at all or very little, less than 1mg per glass. Hence, drinking wine is not the best way to go about getting Resveratrol since its concentration is highly variable depending on growing conditions of the grapes and how the wine is made. Of all the plants including grapes, the richest source of Resveratrol is found in the medicinal plant, Polygonum cuspidatum, found mostly in China and Japan.

Beneficial properties

Resveratrol is a member of a group of compounds called phytoalexins. Grapes and other plants produce Resveratrol helps fight heart disease through its strong antioxidant activity, by increasing nitric oxide to relax blood vessels, and by reducing abnormal blood clotting and blockages.

Initial research indicates that Resveratrol is a member of a group of compounds called phytoalexins. Grapes and other plants produce Resveratrol may be effective against the development of amyloid deposits associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Resveratrol is a member of a group of compounds called phytoalexins. Grapes and other plants produce Resveratrol has shown it can inhibit both development and growth of cancer cells, as well as kill existing cancer cells.

Resveratrol can also be protective against skin cancer, stomach cancer, liver disease, inflammation, and even pain.

Resveratrol is often particularly effective in helping to maintain normal oestrogen activity. As a phytoestrogen, it can help control hot flushes, mood fluctuations, bone loss, and other menopausal symptoms. It appears to also be useful in blocking the onset and progression of oestrogen-related cancers such as breast and prostate cancers. It has also been shown to block the ability of cancer cells to metastasise to bone, particularly in pancreas, kidney, and breast cancers.

Eating less may extend life

You may have recently come across an article entitled Eating less may extend life in The Star newspaper on April 6, 2006.

The article is based on the latest preliminary study (JAMA, Vol 295, No.13, April 5, 2006) in human diet that suggests reducing calories (food) may extend life span. This so-called “caloric restriction” has now been confirmed in several animal species; that reducing intake of food by 30% while still supplying the essential nutrients can prolong the animal’s life by up to 30%.

Even if caloric restriction were to work in humans, being hungry all the time and having the physical appearance of someone starving is not everyone’s vision of life-extending programme.

How does caloric restriction prolong life?

Caloric restriction activates the longevity gene (SIR2). SIR2 gene stimulates production of sirtuins (protein), which protect cells against starvation and keep cells alive.

After testing over 10,000 chemicals, Dr David Sinclair of Harvard Medical found Resveratrol to be the most potent stimulator of longevity gene (SIR2) – the same gene expressed during caloric restriction.

In a separate study by Dr Cynthia Kenyon of the University of California, it was found that two hormones – insulin and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) – are involved in controlling ageing. By manipulating the gene to reduce IGF-1 in mice, it is found that mice lived 26% longer than normal mice. Dr Sinclair’s research supports Kenyon’s work and he found that Resveratrol is able to regulate the production of IGF-1.

Based on Dr Kenyon’s earlier work, a researcher in France, Dr Martin Holzenberger, recently genetically altered mice so they would respond to the IGF-1 hormone poorly and found these IGF-1 impaired mice lived 26% longer than normal mice.

In a related study, Dr Ronald Kahn with Boston’s Joslin Diabetes Centre released data showing that mice genetically altered to respond poorly to insulin lived 18% longer than normal mice.

So far, all life extension studies are done in worms, insects and lower animals. If such studies are to be done on humans, it would take more than 100 years to obtain the results. However, it is vital to note that humans share many genes with the simplest organisms such as fruit flies and worms; and as much as 98% of DNA is identical to that found in mouse.