A healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and sensible eating can help to prolong life span and also improve the quality of life as people age. The underlying mechanisms responsible for the positive impact of a sensible diet on longevity and quality of life have been studied in a number of different organisms including bacteria, yeast, worms, fish, mice and rats. Dietary restriction in these organisms increases life span and this is associated with an increase in expression of genes that are involved in sugar and fat metabolism. So, it seems that dieting can have beneficial effects not only for humans but species throughout the phylogenetic tree. While dietary restriction has clear health benefits, it can also pose risks and not everyone is willing or able to maintain limited intake of food throughout the life span. The search is on for a drug that would produce the benefits of dietary restriction without the pain.

A recent paper published online in Cell Metabolism (Pearson et al., “Resveratrol Delays Age-Related Deterioration and Mimics Transcriptional Aspects of Dietary Restriction without Extending Life Span” doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2008.06.011) has shown that resveratrol may be the magic bullet. Resveratrol is a contained in red wine and is one of the components believed to be responsible for some of the health benefits of modest red wine consumption. In the study done be Pearson and colleagues, gene expression profiles in mice treated daily with resveratrol were compared with profiles obtained from mice placed on a restricted caloric intake diet beginning at 1 year of age. It was found that expression of genes involved in metabolism was very similar between the two groups. Moreover, “quality of life” measures, that included assessments of motor performance, cardiovascular health, osteoporosis and cataract development all revealed that mice on the restricted diet or resveratrol had significantly better scores than those mice on a standard diet. Interestingly, dietary restriction, but not resveratrol treatment, increased life span.

Vitamins and other supplements have been used for many years with the hope that these treatments would improve the quality of life and longevity. Limited data are available to verify the effectiveness of these treatments in achieving their goals. However the study by Pearson et al., suggest that supplements containing resveratrol may just do the trick. Sensible eating along with the occasional glass of red wine does not sound like such a horrible life style adjustment for those seeking longer and healthier lives!