Friday, November 17, 2006

The Magic Pill -- Resveratrol

I often am critical of attempts by science to come up with magic pills for weight loss, diseases, mental health, or nearly anything else. But every once in a while the find something that seems almost miraculous. This time they have discovered that a natural substance can have a profound impact on health.

Drug Doubles Endurance, Study Says

By NICHOLAS WADE
Published: November 16, 2006

Given that some athletes will take almost anything to gain a one percent edge in performance, what might they do for a 100 percent improvement? That temptation is made somewhat more real by a report today in a leading journal about a drug that doubles the physical endurance of mice running on treadmills. And it could only be more tempting, because the drug in question has also been reported to extend the lifespan of mice.

An ordinary lab mouse will run about one kilometer — five-eights of a mile — on a treadmill before collapsing from exhaustion. But mice given resveratrol, a minor component of red wine and other foods, run twice as far.

They also have a reduced heart rate and energy-charged muscles, just as trained athletes do, according to an article published online in Cell by Johan Auwerx and his colleagues at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in Illkirch, France.

“Resveratrol makes you look like a trained athlete without the training,” Dr. Auwerx (pronounced OH-wer-ix”) said in an interview.

He and his colleagues said the same mechanism seems likely to operate in humans, based on their analysis, in a group of Finnish subjects, of the gene that is influenced by the drug.

Their rationale for testing resveratrol was evidence obtained three years ago that it could activate a genetic mechanism known to protect mice against the degenerative diseases of aging and to prolong their lifespan by 30 percent.

Dr. Auwerx, whose interest is in the genetic control of metabolism, decided to see if resveratrol would offset the effects of a high-fat diet, specifically the metabolic disturbances, known as metabolic syndrome, that are the precursors of diabetes and obesity.

In his report, he and his colleagues say that very large doses of resveratrol protected mice from gaining weight and from developing metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Auwerx attributes this change in large part to the significantly increased number of mitochondria he detected in the muscle cells of treated mice.

Mitochondria are the organelles within the body’s cells that generate energy. With increased mitochondria, the treated mice were able to burn off more fat and thus avoid weight gain and decreased sensitivity to insulin, Dr. Auwerx said. He found that their muscle fibers had been remodeled by the drug into the type more prevalent in trained human athletes.

Dr. Ronald M. Evans, a leading expert on the hormonal control of metabolism at the Salk Institute, said that the report by Dr. Auwerx’s team had “shown very convincingly that resveratrol improves mitochondrial function” and fends off metabolic disease.

Dr. Evans described the study as “very important, because it is rare that we identify orally active molecules, especially natural molecules, that have such a broad-based, positive effect on a problem as widespread in society as metabolic disease.”

Read the rest.

Rather than work directly with resveratrol, however, since it is a natural substance that can't be patented, these "scientists" are trying to find other ways to hit the same protein systems in the body that resveratrol hits, but with a drug they can patent and get rich from.

But if you want to try this wonder chemical, you're not likely to get enough of it from diet alone to have any impact. Some supplement companies are already marketing a supplement based on older research that shows resveratrol lowers estrogen levels, both endogenous and exogenous, limits conversion of testosterone to estrogen, and has a few other nice health benefits.

I have been taking a supplement of resveratrol for a while with seemingly good results, but it's all subjective.


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