Life Extension With Grapes?
by Rob Lester
Life Extension With Grapes? Have you ever heard of the "French Paradox?" This refers to the low incidence of heart disease among French people even though they eat a relatively high-fat diet. This surprising observation, made a number of years ago, has stimulated scientists to look for the explanation. Some researchers thought that the French preference for drinking red wine with their high-fat diet might in some way protect them from fat-induced disease.
In the late 1990's scientists began to speculate that a compound found in the skin of red grapes, resveratrol (also know as trans-3,5,4-trihydroxystilbene), a strong antioxidant, might be responsible for this health paradox. Various laboratories reported positive findings about this compound, including the suppression of certain types of cancer cells. However, they also found that it acts somewhat like estrogen and might promote the growth of others.
The most dramatic potential health benefit of the grape extract, resveratrol, was reported in the scientific journal "Nature" in November 2006 by a group of scientists from Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Aging. These researchers demonstrated a dramatic reduction of liver disease, diabetes and other health problems in mice fattened up on a very unhealthy high-fat diet. The death rate in the mice given resveratrol was about a third lower than the control mice, and the treated mice lived longer than the scientists expected. Perhaps most surprising was the report that the organs of the fat mice given the grape extract were relatively normal when they should have shown significant signs of fat-induced disease.
So, what does this mean for people? It is too soon to say for sure, but optimism about this compound is high. Before rushing out to take it in large quantities, however, remember that mice are not a very good model of human health and disease. For example, if killing tumors in mice could be translated directly to humans, people would have stopped suffering from cancer many years ago.
It takes a long time to carefully determine ALL the effects, both positive and negative, of taking high doses of a new compound, and given the mixed results with tests on cancer cells, it would not be wise for people at risk for developing hormonally-driven cancers, like breast cancer, to take high doses of resveratrol before a lot more research is done. That old conventional wisdom about the value of "moderation in all things" can be well applied to using resveratrol for health and life-extension. Rather than going overboard with highly concentrated supplements, it may be more beneficial to include an occasional glass of red wine in your diet.
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