Reservations about Resveratrol

There is in the science press a kind of gene-of-the-month club for disease cures in which scientists discover that promoting or quieting a particular gene cures this condition or that. One prominent example in recent years has been the claim of remarkable potential for a compound named resveratrol.

Specifically, it has been claimed that resveratrol acts on a specific gene to promote longevity. And, by the way, it will also cure cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Resveratrol research is the science behind the popular claim that drinking red wine, which has a relatively high concentration of resveratrol, will help you live longer. The research seemed so promising a small company that specialized in resveratrol research was bought last year for a staggering $720 million. However, a paper was published two weeks ago casting doubt on the experiments that support the optimism.

Researchers from Amgen say they have found that the positive results of previous resveratrol research might have been an artifact of the experimental procedures. This is the second such paper, according to Derek Lowe, who wrote about the new research today on his blog, In the Pipeline. Both the Amgen paper and the earlier one from University of Washington scientists report that resveratrol does, indeed, appear to have beneficial effects, but that the hypothesis of how those effects are achieved is questionable. Not knowing how it works will make development of drugs based on resveratrol exceptionally difficult. The net result? A cure for aging is not just around the corner.

As often happens, research that argues against highly publicized claims of health benefits rarely gets the same attention the original research received. So far, Lowe’s post is the only mention we’ve seen.

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Terry McDermott spent thirty years at eight newspapers, most recently at the Los Angeles Times, where he reported from more than twenty countries. He is the author of the upcoming The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.