The key ingredient is resveratrol. It occurs in grape vines, roots, seeds and stalks, but its highest concentration is in grape skins. The skins are used in producing red wine, that's where the red color comes from, but not in white wine which is made without skins.Resveratrol, is in a family of molecules produced by plants in response to mild stress, such as drought. It stimulates production of a protein which has been shown to allow yeast cells to extend their life by 70 percent. The same kind of metabolic trick in humans would extend our average life span to about 136 years.
But does it work on human cells? Yes! When researchers at Harvard "fed" resveratrol to human cells, they were pleased to discover that resveratrol extended the cells' lifetime."The discovery brings closer a time when a drug that extends life and prevents many diseases of aging becomes a reality," says David Sinclair who leads the research at Harvard Medical School.
Resveratrol is currently available. See the red wine section of your local market. Pinot Noir and reed muscadine wines from the southeast US have the highest content. It's also found in lesser quantities in blueberries.
Update 11/27/2007: Scientists at Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc. say they have created a drug that mimics the ingredient in red wine linked to longevity and the cell structures that power endurance athletes like cycling champion Lance Armstrong.
The new molecule is 1,000 times more potent than the wine derivative, resveratrol, and could lead to solutions for diseases of aging, including cancer and diabetes, according to authors of a study in today's issue of the journal Nature.
Researchers tested about 500,000 molecules for abilities to activate the immune-system booster SIRT1, the enzyme credited with resveratrol's ability to extend lifespans 30 to 70 percent in organisms from yeast and worms to flies and mice.
Human testing on the most promising ones will begin next year, said David Sinclair, an author of the study.
"These are real drugs. This is not something out of red wine anymore," said Sinclair, a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School and cofounder of Cambridge-based Sirtris. The study is "proof of a principle that you can put something into the food supply that will ward off and treat the diseases of aging in a single pill."