How Long Shall Humans Live?

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How Long Shall Humans Live? The Current Answer Is Found in a Glass of Red Wine

by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi

As I entered the Harvard laboratory, it was inauspicious. The myriads of glass flasks and laboratory work benches were arranged in a haphazard fashion. One wonders what could come out of all this biochemical chaos? But this lab has gained unusual attention in the past few weeks, and its discoveries are sure to affect the future of mankind.

David Sinclair, PhD, Harvard genetic scientist has found how to turn a survival gene into a longevity factor.

The laboratory I am talking about is the Sinclair Lab, named after Dr. David Sinclair, a pathology professor at Harvard Medical School.

David Sinclair is a young, smiling, bio-genetic researcher whose passion has been the study of aging. A native of Australia, he came to the USA to do research work at MIT and Harvard noticed his accomplishments and lured him with his own laboratory, now housed in Goldensen Building at Harvard Medical School.

Up till now, the only unequivocal method of prolonging life has been calorie restriction. The prospect of a near-starvation diet is obviously a difficult idea to market to human populations. So the announcement of Sinclair’s research is being met with glee.

Sinclair has been interviewed by every major news network in recent weeks for his discovery, published in Nature magazine, that a dietary component could lengthen the human life span by 70 percent, up to 50 years. A 125-year human lifespan could become common! Even an older adult could live years longer by increasing dietary resveratrol intake.

A survival gene becomes a longevity factor

What Sinclair and his students have uncovered is a survival gene that can be “switched on” to become a longevity gene. The gene increases the production of an enzyme that prolongs the time a living cell has to repair its DNA genetic material. This enzyme is normally produced when the survival of living cells is threatened by starvation, exposure to germs or bombardment by solar ultraviolet radiation. No longer would humans have to starve themselves to prolong life.

In a plant model, the skin of a grape increases its production of the enzyme which produces a protective molecule called resveratrol. It is resveratrol, when given to yeast cells, fruit flies, worms and mice that extends life by a whopping 70 percent. Humans have the similar survival gene.

Pinot noir grapes contain more of a newly found longevity factor than other types of grapes.

There has been a flurry of scientific reports on resveratrol recently. About 450 of the approximately 750 scientific reports on resveratrol listed by the National Library of Medicine have been published in the past 24 months. Studies point to this miraculous molecule as a potential cure for cancer, heart disease, age-related brain disorders, and much more. Resveratrol inhibits fungal infection, raises HDL “good” cholesterol, lowers PSA levels in males, raises immunity, controls blood pressure, preserves red blood cells, prevents blood clots and inhibits inflammation. How much more could one ask of one molecule? Furthermore, it would take only about 3 to 5 milligrams of resveratrol, about the amount provided in a glass of red wine, to produce these results in humans.

The future of resveratrol

During my two-hour interview with Dr. Sinclair, I asked him what he had in mind for the future of this molecule. He said that venture capitalists had the idea of taking artificial copies of resveratrol, called analogs, and making them expensive drugs. But they were disappointed when his laboratory disclosed that the same molecule could be acquired in a glass of red wine. A resveratrol drug would probably take a decade to develop and get approved by the Food & Drug Administration, added Sinclair.

Dr. Sinclair says the public needs to know more about this remarkable natural molecule and how to get more of it into their diet. It could be as simple as drinking a 5-ounce glass of red wine, preferably from pinot noir grapes grown in northern latitudes like New York, Oregon and Washington, that generally yield more resveratrol than other varieties.

Challenging resveratrol

Of course, Sinclair’s research is so unbelievable that it required some further challenges. Why aren’t everyday imbibers of red wine centenarians? Why can’t people just drink grape juice, or eat raisins, or grapes for that matter, and live longer? The answer lies in the wine-making process. The fermentation process extracts resveratrol from the skin of a red or purple grape and then it is kept from spoilage in a nitrogen-flushed bottle. The air doesn’t get to the resveratrol in a bottle of wine so it can’t oxidize. Grape skins provide resveratrol, but not in an extracted form. Due to processing, grape juice provides little resveratrol. Sun-dried raisins also contain no resveratrol due to oxidation by sun rays. The same is true for resveratrol pills which are widely marketed. Their resveratrol content, extracted from the Giant Knotweed plant (also called fo-ti in Asian cultures) for use in dietary supplements, is nil. Sinclair has tested a number of brands of resveratrol pills and their resveratrol content was zero. The resveratrol disappears soon after exposure to air during encapsulation. For now, red wine is the only reliable source of resveratrol. White wine has ten times less resveratrol.

Pinot Noir red wines from northern climates, such as this wine from New York, yield greater amounts of resveratrol, now identified as a life-extending molecule. Wine prevents oxidation of resveratrol whereas this molecule is destroyed in currently-produced dietary supplements.

What will humanity do?

What will humanity do with a molecule that can repair damaged DNA, abolish age-related disease as we know it and prolong human life by decades? Who will pay the Social Security payments up to age 125? How will insurance companies re-calculate actuary tables? Can you get a refund on your long-term care (nursing home) insurance if you don’t need it? After all, a great deal of planning goes into the assumption human beings will die on time, in their seventh or eight decade.

Dr. Sinclair says the world will need to adjust accordingly to discoveries such as resveratrol. This kind of discovery can’t be hidden. Just imagine, Sinclair said, what people could have said after Alexander Fleming announced his discovery of penicillin in 1922. At the time, nay-sayers could have claimed that penicillin would eradicate infectious diseases and dramatically expand human populations, resulting in famine and war. Why not let the concept of “survival of the fittest” reign?

Thomas Malthus issued his doomsday theory on population growth in 1798 which meant any dramatic increase in survival would doom humanity to overpopulation, scarcity of food, and eventual massive trimming of the size of the world’s human populations. But Malthus couldn’t foresee the industrial revolution or modern methods of crop production. Similarly, the availability of a stabilized resveratrol plant extract, now underway, could also be used to increase human food supplies. For example, dipping apples in resveratrol preserves their freshness for weeks following harvesting. Resveratrol may have use as a novel food preservative, thus remedying a social problem of its own creation.

The word resveratrol is soon to become widely known. Millions will benefit from its availability. The introduction of a non-alcohol dietary supplement that can reliably deliver standardized amounts of resveratrol to human populations would certainly cause a stir throughout the world. No date has been given in regards to the introduction of such a product, but it is reported to be beyond the drawing board stage. Dr. Sinclair is the genie who is unleashing this molecule and future reports on his work will only substantiate what has already been documented.

Bill Sardi [send him mail] is a health journalist and consumer advocate. His website is www.askbillsardi.com.

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