A calorie-restricted diet can lead to an increased life-expectancy in humans. The intuition behind this fact is that when your body is starved, it goes into “survival mode” and directs resources towards body maintenance. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on a study showing the anti-aging affects of a chemical found in red-wine called resveratrol which is thought to mimic the effect of a calorie-restricted diet. The study, originally published in Nature, considered the difference in life expectancy and general quality of life between mice with standard diets, high calorie diets, and high calorie diets supplemented by large amounts of resveratrol.
In effect, they were looking for a solution to the “French Paradox“, which is the contradictory fact that the French typically have high-fat diets while maintaining lower heart-disease rates than Americans. It has been suggested that the resveratrol in red-wine could explain this paradox.
In short, the study found that taking huge doses of resveratrol did reverse some of the effects of a high-calorie diet in mice. One visually appealling example is the contrast between the livers of mice from each of the three groups studied:
In this figure (Baur et al., Nature 444, pp. 337-342), SD = ‘standard diet’, HC = ‘high-calorie diet’, and HCR = ‘high-calorie diet supplemented with resveratrol’. The three livers are representative of the mice from each group. While the HCR diet does produce a liver comparable in size to that of the SD mouse, it does look quite a bit more gnarly, doesn’t it? (the authors claim that the liver cells from mice on the HCR diet do look healthy when they are examined with a microscope.) In addition, the HCR mice had longer life-expectancies and better ability to do cool tricks like balancing on a rotating bar than the HC mice. Essentially, the HCR mice, while gorging just as much as the HC mice, enjoyed the benefits of a healthy lifestyle without suffering the burden of tiresome restraint in their diets.
So is this the panacea that the American fast-food industry has been waiting for? Some people have apparently started taking resveratrol supplements, but we’d be hard pressed to keep up with the mice in this study. The Times article explains:
The mice were fed a hefty dose of resveratrol, 24 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Red wine has about 1.5 to 3 milligrams of resveratrol per liter, so a 150-lb person would need to drink 750 to 1,500 bottles of red wine a day to get such a dose.
1000 bottles of wine per day! Clearly this is not the solution to American addiction to fatty foods, but a better understanding of the mechanism of action of resveratrol could have the potential to help counteract some of the deleterious effects of:
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Hydrogenated fat
- Being surrounded by cheap, low-nutrition, high-carbohydrate food
- Eight hours television of television per day
- Seventeen stab wounds to the back
- Machines that do our movement for us
Focusing on the effects of resveratrol to combat specific ailments (e.g. diabetes or hypertension) will be important in the future, because barring the classification of “aging” as a disease, resveratrol won’t be considered for a drug status anytime soon.