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Health News Archive 19 - Antioxidants and Aging
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Resveratrol from Red Wine May Extend Healthy Life

The compound that makes red wine a healthful drink may also hold the secret to a longer life, scientists reported. 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 Dr. 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," Dr. Sinclair said. "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, Dr. 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."

Last year, Sinclair reported resveratrol extended the life of yeast. Now he has tested resveratrol 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 Dr. Sinclair.

Flies are complex enough animals to answer questions about fertility and weight gain, Dr. 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."

Dr. 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.

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Resveratrol, a Red Wine Molecule Shown to Extend Life

Researchers have known for years that cutting calories can prolong life in everything from yeast cells to mammals. But an easier way to live longer may be as simple as turning a corkscrew. Molecules, called Resvratrol, found in red wine, peanuts and other products of the plant world have been shown to mimic the life-extending effects of calorie restriction.

Researchers said that one of the molecules, a compound known as resveratrol, was shown in a study to extend the life span of yeast cells by up to 80 percent. Resveratrol exists naturally in grapes and red wine.

David Sinclair, an assistant professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study, said he and his fellow researchers hope the resveratrol molecules will prove to prolong life not just in yeast but in multi-cellular organisms like worms, fruit flies and, perhaps, humans. Dr. Sinclair, whose study appears in the advanced online edition of the journal Nature, said tests on worms and flies were already yielding "encouraging" results. "I can't say any more because I will scoop my next two publications," he said, adding that similar trials were already being planned on mice.


Sinclair said he has become more "enthusiastic" about the purported health benefits of red wine since his research began, and that experts who have reviewed his findings have had a similar response. "Not many people know about the resveratrol results yet, but those who do have almost invariably changed their drinking habits. That is, they drink more red wine," he commented.

The molecules that were shown to extend life in yeast belong to a family of compounds known as polyphenols. These include resveratrol, which is already thought to make red wine healthy in moderate amounts. Dr. Sinclair said the latest study may help explain why moderate consumption of red wine has been linked to lower incidence of heart disease and why resveratrol prevents cancer in mice. "We're connecting many dots with this study," he said.

Scientists have known for decades that putting organisms on a calorie-restricted diet dramatically reduces the incidence of age-related illnesses such as cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease.

In the 1990s, research showed that single genes can control how fast organisms age. Because of that, scientists have been racing to find ways of manipulating those genes. Sinclair and his team have been looking for what he calls the Holy Grail of aging research: molecules that activate the enzymes that in turn influence the genes that regulate aging. Now, they say, they have found those molecules.

Sinclair's team partnered with BIOMOL, a Pennsylvania company, to screen thousands of molecules to see which ones might activate the enzymes. Not only did they find a group of 18 molecules that fit the bill -- resveratrol being just one -- but all of them came from plants and were produced in response to harsh environmental conditions like drought.

"We think we know why these plants make these molecules. We think it's part of their own defense response, and we also believe that animals and fungi that live on the plants can pick up on these clues," he said. To illustrate that theory, Dr. Sinclair noted that red wines from regions with harsher growing conditions -- Spain, Chile, Argentina and Australia -- contain more resveratrol than those produced where grapes are not highly stressed or dehydrated.

SOURCE: Nature 2003, early online edition August 24.

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Oregano Can Spice Up Your Antioxidant Protection

Ounce for ounce, many herbs used to flavor our foods have more antioxidant power than berries, fruits and vegetables, according to an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) study published in November 2001.

Previous studies of animals and of human blood have shown that foods that score high in antioxidant capacity may protect cells and their components from oxidative damage. The thesis that oxidative damage culminates in many of the maladies of aging is well accepted in the health community.

Herbs are known to be good sources of antioxidants, but their potency can vary depending on species and growing conditions. So researchers at the ARS Fruit Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, evaluated a variety of fresh culinary and medicinal herbs grown under the same environmental conditions at the same location, the ARS National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

ARS plant physiologist Shiow Wang and visiting scientist Wei Zheng from the Institute of Environmental Science in Zhejing, China, put 27 culinary herbs and 12 medicinal herbs to the antioxidant test. Known as ORAC for short, the test measures the ability of a sample to disarm oxidizing compounds, which our bodies naturally generate as a byproduct of metabolism.

Three different types of oregano - Mexican, Italian and Greek mountain - scored highest in antioxidant activity. Their activity was stronger than that of vitamin E and comparable to the food preservative BHA against fat oxidation, the researchers reported in the November 2001 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Several other culinary herbs - among them rose geranium, sweet bay, dill, purple amaranth and winter savory - also showed strong antioxidant activity. But it was about one-half to one-third as potent as that of the oreganos. The medicinal herbs generally scored lower in antioxidant activity, suggesting that their health benefits mostly stem from other functions in the body.

According to Wang, antioxidant activity of these herbs may vary considerably, depending on where they are grown. But their rankings would tend to hold up in other environments because of characteristic compounds in each species. The oreganos, for instance, had high levels of the potent antioxidant rosmarinic acid.

The highest scorer in this study, Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora), is used in traditional Mexican and Southwest recipes. Its flavor is a bit stronger than Italian oregano (Origanum majoricum), used to season meats, egg dishes, soups and vegetables. Greek mountain oregano (Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum), had the third highest score.

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