Forget apples: a drink a day could keep the doctor away

red wine

red wine (Photo credit: boo_licious)

It seems like every few months, various articles circulate on the internet about the benefits of drinking a glass of red wine every day.  But it’s always hard to sift through the legitimate science and the truth-stretching, so how can you get to the bottom of this all-important justification for consuming alcohol?  Turns out, research is slowly but surely building a decent case for having that glass of red wine with dinner.

So what’s special about red wine?  It contains high amounts of a compound called resveratrol.  A few years ago, researchers at Harvard Medical School showed that resveratrol could increase life-span in mice.  It also protected the mice from obesity even when they were fed a high-calorie diet.  We knew that resveratrol works by activating a protein called SIRT1, but we didn’t know exactly how.  The “gold standard” in proving that a drug interacts with a protein is to put the drug and the protein into a test tube, alone, and show that the protein is consequently activated or inhibited by the drug.  Unfortunately, the only way scientists previously could show increased SIRT1 activity was by adding both resveratrol and a second compound.  This second compound isn’t found in nature, so there was no way to prove that what we were seeing in the test tube is really what happens in the body.

A study published a few days ago in the journal Science has put those doubts to rest.  Since the second molecule had to be present for resveratrol to activate SIRT1, they asked what can be found in cells that looks like the fluorescent molecule and might be performing the same job.  They discovered that one of the amino acids in our cells is the second factor that enables resveratrol to activate SIRT1.  (Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are the cell’s “work horses.”)  Best of all: there are companies developing drugs that are even more potent than resveratrol, and may be used to combat aging-related diseases and obesity in the future.

This is great news for wine lovers everywhere, but don’t declare an all-out victory yet.  These studies were done almost entirely in mice and mouse cells, with only a small amount of data for resveratrol’s actions in human cells.  So take it with a grain of salt – effects we see in mice do not always translate into humans.  But…sometimes they do.  There’s no harm in having a glass of wine when you get home tonight, and there very well may be real health benefits.  I don’t know about you, but that seems reasonable enough justification to me.

(Don’t like red wine?  Resveratrol is found in the skin of grapes, so white wine, grape juice, or just grapes can also do the trick.  It’s also found in peanuts and berries.)

Want more?  Here’s a longer explanation that’s pretty accessible for non-scientists: http://hms.harvard.edu/news/new-study-validates-longevity-pathway-3-7-13

More about resveratrol: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/resveratrol/#sources

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