Everything bad is good again

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One of my favorite scenes in Woody Allen’s 1973 film Sleeper involves two doctors (for those of you who haven’t seen this film, most of the movie takes place in the year 2173):

Dr. Melik: [puzzling over list of items sold at Miles’ old health-food store] … wheat germ, organic honey and … tiger’s milk.

Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or … hot fudge?

Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Those were thought to be unhealthy … precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Dr. Melik: Incredible!

I thought of this scene when I first heard about the possible beneficial properties of red wine (back in 1992, when Siemann & Creasy proposed that resveratrol might be responsible for the cardioprotective effects of red wine). Although I drink quite a bit of red wine, I hadn’t really thought much about resveratrol until I read a new review article by Baur & Sinclair that’s on the Nature Reviews Drug Discovery Advance Online Publication page.

Since that original report back in 1992, the number of papers exploring resveratrol’s biological activity has skyrocketed: according to Baur & Sinclair resveratrol has been shown to “prevent or slow the progression of a wide variety of illnesses, including ”http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/275/5297/218">cancer, cardiovascular disease and ischaemic injuries, as well as enhance stress resistance and extend the lifespans of various organisms from yeast to vertebrates."

Not a big fan of red wine? No problem – there are many other natural sources of resveratrol, including grape juice, blueberries, and pistachios (although the concentration of resveratrol is much higher in red wine…)

We still need to learn more about the physiologically-relevant mechanism(s) of action, and the authors suggest that “blocking the metabolism of resveratrol, developing analogues with improved bioavailability, or finding new, more potent compounds that mimic its effects” will be important, as resveratrol is not cheap: “administering a daily dose to a human weighing 75 kg with 100 mg per kg (body weight) of resveratrol would require 2.7 kg of resveratrol a year, at a current cost of about US$6,800.”

This blog entry has made me thirsty for some wine tonight – I think I’ll stop off at the wine store on the way home and pick up a nice Syrah or maybe a bottle of French wine – anything red is fine, as long as it’s not a Merlot


Joshua Finkelstein (Associate Editor, Nature)