Monday, March 16, 2009

Bottoms Up!

Just this year, the world's second biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, paid $720 million to buy Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company that is developing drugs that mimic the effects of resveratrol. What then is so special about resveratrol?

Twenty years ago, a remarkable group of naturally occurring compounds known as phytoalexins was discovered. Phytoalexins are natural antibiotics that are produced by plants that are under attack by bacteria or fungi, and are capable of killing or inactivating the invading organism with amazing efficiency. They therefore function as orchestrators of a kind of biochemical immune system within the plant kingdom: as part of the response to bacterial or fungal invasion, infected plants release hormones that can prompt as yet uninfected neighboring plants to begin producing phytoalexins of their own as a sort of proactive defense.

The ability of phytoalexins to inhibit cell division and to arrest the growth of invading organisms quickly caught the attention of cancer researchers. One phytoalexin in particular, resveratrol, has become the focus of a great deal of research attention. Resveratrol, a phytoalexin found in the skin of red grapes (that's how it finds its way into red wine), has been shown to possess marked anti-cancer activity in addition to a wide range of other beneficial physiological effects, including the capacity to lower blood sugar, and an ability to extend the lifespan of certain experimental animals.

Because of its association with red grapes and red wine, it has been suggested that resveratrol may be the "magic ingredient" responsible for the fact that people who regularly drink modest amounts of red wine tend to have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease - the so-called "French Paradox."

Resveratrol exhibits an anti-inflammatory effect. It is a potent antioxidant, inhibiting free radical formation and preventing genetic mutations that can lead to tumor formation. Together, its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-mutagenic properties, coupled with the fact that it has a very low toxicity, make it highly promising as a potential weapon against cancer.

I am not suggesting that teetotalers take up the alcohol habit in order to avail themselves of the benefits of this compound. Alcohol has too many potential downsides, including the possibility of addiction, to recommend it. But, if you are an adult in reasonably good health and already drink wine, then may I suggest that you cultivate a taste for Pinot Noir (the wine that was celebrated in the movie, Sideways.) That way, you will not only enjoy yourself but get a more-than-usual dose of resveratrol.

(N.B. Those who prefer to get their resveratrol without the accompanying alcohol can purchase resveratrol capsules that will provide an equivalent benefit.)

No comments:

Post a Comment