The French diet is high in heart-unhealthy saturated fats, yet the French are reported to have a low incidence of heart disease. This so-called French Paradox was first brought to viewers’ attention in a 1991 broadcast of 60 Minutes, with the suggestion that an ingredient in wine, when consumed in moderation, protects the heart.
Did Methuselah Drink Red Wine? Resveratrol, found in the skin of grapes and in red wine, is said to have health-promoting effects. This antioxidant is thought to protect the cells against free radicals, which damage cells, potentially shielding us from heart disease and cancer. Results of studies published in 2003 reported that resveratrol extended the lives of yeasts, worms, fruit flies, and short-lifespan fish. Mice fed a high-fat diet and treated with resveratrol had lower rates of obesity and diabetes, strong risk factors in heart disease. (To get a mouse-comparable dose of resveratrol, a human would have to consume 100 to1,000 bottles of red wine each day!) Other animal studies pointed to its anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic effects, its protection against brain plaque formation associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and its reduction of skin cancer rates when applied to the skin.
After reading the promotional literature for resveratrol-containing dietary supplements found on the Internet, one reaches the inescapable conclusion that these same health benefits occur in humans. To date, we still anxiously await such positive findings. When taken as a pill, resveratrol is extensively broken down in the digestive tract and, after circulating in the blood and reaching the liver, is rapidly inactivated.
The pharmaceutical company Sirtris continues work on developing a synthetic resveratrol-like drug. This drug is theorized to work by activating SIRT1, a protein thought to extend the life of mice and, presumably, humans. For now, delay plans to celebrate your 120th birthday.