Can you remember the resveratrol craze of the early 2000s, when wine was touted as the Fountain of Youth?
Forever obsessed with the French paradox (“Why aren’t those goddamn French fat like us when they’re constantly eating butter and fat, and drinking to boot?!”), American researchers identified a compound in the antioxidant-laden skins of red grapes which was suddenly touted as an explanation.
And before you knew it — even before a sufficient toxicological study! — the founder of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals was boldly ingesting resveratrol capsules and encouraging family and coworkers to do so, spurred on by results that shocked the world: purportedly, mice injected with ginormous amounts of resveratrol were able to exercise twice as long as normal, with even healthier hearts directly afterwards1.
Resveratrol was as “close to a miraculous molecule as you get”2. Here’s how the story went: grape skins contain polyphenols, antioxidants which are in essence antibiotics. These antibiotics are there for a distinct purpose: to protect the grape from fungal attack. Fungus attacks the grape, the grape detects it, and a chemical reaction is triggered which ‘activates’ the defensive chemical within the grape skin. Obviously resveratrol levels are quite low in the thin-skinned Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes which undergo noble rot3. Since fungal infections are more common in cooler climates, grapes grown in cooler climates have a higher concentration of resveratrol4.
As is the case with so many other pharmaceutically effective drugs, as luck would have it, there is a wholly unintended positive effect on the human body5. Obviously the grapes didn’t via some empathic moment of evolution one day dream of helping their human caretakers trump their biological clocks. The hypothesis advanced by Sirtris Pharmaceutical was that the chemical compound resveratrol activated (Click to Read more)
- http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/17/health/17drug.html?ei=5070&en=d8f9b2e21e814cd8&ex=1181275200&adxnnl=0&adxnnlx=1181171762-n9yR5u5SzvND9+cUJV4dkg&pagewanted=print&_r=0 [↩]
- http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/business/yourmoney/08stream.html?_r=0 [↩]
- “During noble rot development in Sauvignon or Sémillon grapes from the Sauternes area, levels of trans-astringin, trans-resveratrol, trans-piceid, and pallidol are quite low.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11902955 [↩]
- Kopp P. Resveratrol, a phytoestrogen found in red wine. A possible explanation for the conundrum of the ‘French paradox’? European Journal of Endocrinology 138:619-620, 1998. [↩]
- It is thought that millions of undiscovered therapeutic chemical compounds which are far too costly to chemically synthesize exist in the Amazonian rainforest, and are being wiped out every day with deforestation. We’re pissing away our medicine chest. [↩]