Good news for wine drinkers the world over. New research is showing the properties of a chemical present in red wine, known as resveratrol, does indeed have anti-aging properties.

It was always postulated that resveratrol had benefits, but the question was proving the mechanisms involved and moving beyond the realm of “old wives tale” and into the science of the process.

Understanding how resveratrol works would move pharmacists forwards into the possibilities of an anti-aging drug, although most people would probably prefer to pop a cork rather than a bottle of pills. There are many diseases such as Alzheimer’s that could potentially be delayed with more focused treatment. It seems that mice lacking the longevity gene known as SIRT1 don’t seem to show benefits from resveratrol.

The red wine ingredient is termed a “dirty molecule” explains David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School who continues:

“Resveratrol improves the health of mice on a high-fat diet and increases life span.”

Although its actions had in the past been attributed to its action on the SIRT1 gene, the naturally occurring molecule in red wine seems to have other effects on dozens of proteins and previous evidence had pointed researchers towards its effect on another gene known as AMPK. This research in mice, yeast, worms and flies, called into question the intelligence of creating an SIRT1 targeting drug, since resveratrol seemed to have other benefits. Due to these findings, Pharma company Sirtris halted its 2011 clinic trial of resveratrol.

Scientists struggled to find answers because the mice lacking the SIRT1 gene didn’t survive, but Sinclair and his colleagues found a way to turn off the SIRT1 gene, and then proved that those adults with SIRT1 deficiency had no benefits from resveratrol.

They went further than this by clearing up some of the confusion surrounding resveratrol acting on other genes. The dosage seems to be the critical aspect, with high doses starting to act in other ways. Thus, it initially targets SIRT1, while at higher doses acting on other genes, but across the board, animals lacking that gene obtained no benefit.

The findings which are published in the May issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Metabolismoffer the first definitive proof of the absolute link between the anti-aging properties of resveratrol and the SIRT1 gene. Researchers can now focus on small molecule compounds that act on the enzymatic activity of the SIRT1 gene. The promising new approach could produce many new drugs that combat aging, including diseases like Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Stroke and others.

Written by Rupert Shepherd