New research coming out of the National Institutes of Health and the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research is contradicting a 2010 claim by the National Institutes for Aging that resveratrol does not extend lifespan. The NIA research had dashed hopes for the development of an anti-aging pill, but it now appears that resveratrol — a natural compound found in grapes, blueberries, and red wine — is back on the map.
The 2010 study called into question the science behind resveratrol and the way it worked on specific genes, namely SIRT1. Resveratrol is a so-called "dirty molecule" because it impacts on a wide number of biological processes, including its effects on dozens of proteins. Complicating that, resveratrol was observed to activate a well-known gene called AMPK, thus putting the entire compound into question as the life-extending factor in question. Those doubts caused the pharmaceutical company Sirtris to stop its clinical trials of resveratrol last year in an effort to develop an anti-aging pill.
But the researchers at the NIH and the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, whose study appears in the May issue of Cell Metabolism, discovered something that the NIA research did not: resveratrol's anti-aging effects only works when a specific gene is present, namely SIRT1. In other words, no SIRT1, no anti-aging effects — which means that resveratrol's influence on the gene is significant. In addition, the researchers were able to isolate and distinguish the impacts of resveratrol on both SIRT1 and AMPK.
Researchers were able to make this determination by analyzing resveratrol's effects on mice, specifically those mice who were lacking in the SIRT1 gene. Up until now, mice without SIRT1 would die at birth, making such a study impossible. But the researchers developed a novel technique for switching off the gene during adulthood. Then, by putting the mice on a dangerously high-fat diet, the researchers were able to study the impacts of resveratrol on SIRT1, and by consequence, the mice's lifespans.
The researchers observed that when mice lacking SIRT1 were given low doses of resveratrol, AMPK was unaffected. But when the doses were significantly increased, AMPK was activated, but still no benefit to mitochondrial function resulted (i.e. no extended life). Consequently, the study now reinforces the claim that resveratrol can prolong lifespan and health-span by boosting the activity of mitochondria, the cell's energy supplier. Consequently, it's very possible that research will continue into the development of an anti-aging pill by using resveratrol.