Monday, January 26, 2009

To Sir2 With Love

There should be a government warning label on blogs when the blogger is about to go off on an ill-informed rant that concerns health issues. At least in this case, it concerns a subject which is of current interest to the wine (making and drinking) community, and, I will be in good company. The subject of course is aging, and my co-ranters (if anyone suspects that this is an article concerning the Islamic prohibition of alcohol, please note, that the phrase 'Co-ranter' has nothing to do with the Muslim bible which in English is generally spelled with a 'K', or a 'Q' never with a 'C') are Morley Safer and Sixty Minutes who last night did a 'science' piece on Resveratrol, the so-called 'anti-aging' component of red wine.

Winemakers in general (me included), tend to wet their pants whenever there is a high profile piece done on the benefits of Resveratrol. The reason is of course is that we see instant dollar signs on the assumption that increased public awareness of the health benefits of drinking red wine will translate into increased sales. The Sixty-Minutes piece provided a good illustration why this hope is probably ill-founded in that the American proclivity for distilling every possible physical pleasure or benefit into pill form is already well underway. According to the piece, a company called 'Sirtis' has been formed to develop and market Resveratrol in pill form. The piece featured the well tanned and youthful founders of the company, David Sinclair, a Harvard researcher and Dr. Christoph Westphals.

We, as a society, seem increasingly preoccupied with the subject of aging, witness the movie, 'The Case of Benjamin Buttons' and the 'The Case of Barry Manilow' (and of course who could forget the memorable 'Case of Viagra')all instances where the normal processes of aging seems to have been confounded. Before we all rush out to return the 'Depends' to Shoprite, I think it's worthwhile to take a closer look at the question of the benefits of Resveratrol.

What exactly is Resveratrol? In this blog we have already talked about one component of wine which as a group are called 'polyphenols' (also called anthocyanins), Resveratrol is a member of this group. It occurs almost entirely in the skin and seeds of the grape (as do all polyphenols).

One of the biggest challenges in growing grapes is their susceptibility to various forms of mildew and rot. All grapes require anti-fungal sprays and, as most winegrowers are aware, white grapes in general require several more anti-fungal sprays throughout the season than do red grapes (there are of course a few exceptions). Resveratrol plays a significant role in this in that it is a natural anti-fungal. This of course explains this discrepancy in susceptibility (in that red grapes have more anthocyanins) and why it occurs in the skins of grapes as that is the point of entry for fungus. Most people however are not particularly susceptible to topical fungal infections (with the exception of athlete's foot, which may explain the popularity of grape stomping), so why does Resveratrol have benefits for us?

The reason advanced by the Dick Clark look-a-likes in lab coats on Sixty-Minutes (does Resveratrol help with bitter anger?) is that Resveratrol activates an anti-aging gene call Sir2. Activation of this gene results in various benefits including increased elasticity of blood vessel walls, cancer-suppression, diabetes suppression, greater motor coordination, reduced susceptibility to stroke and cataract reduction. All this much is pretty well established, and this, without even the necessity of putting it in ironic context, is great news!. Where there is still some disagreement is whether Resveratrol actually extends the life span. Sinclair's tests on yeast and worms seem to indicate it does, other studies, (Pearson et al., 'Resveratrol Delays Age-Related Deterioration and Mimics Transcriptional Aspects of Dietary Restriction without Extending Life Span', Cell Metabolism (2008)), seem to indicate otherwise. The suggestive title of the second article indicates that there is in fact another way to activate this gene which there is, that being by prolonged semi-starvation or what is called (somewhat both ironically and euphemistically) in scientific circles, 'DR' (dietary restriction) and indeed this 'mimetic' effect is what prompted Sinclair's original work.

Because of the anti-fungal properties of Resveratrol previous studies had been done to determine if it had any anti-bacterial or anti-yeast qualities. Interestingly, these showed that there were, but only on specific bacteria, namely those that cause meningitis or gonorrhea. (Docherty, et al, Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (2001)). Normal staph and strep germs and yeast were all unaffected.

So, to summarize to this point, (and I apologize for the level of technicality of this blog, which, if you were taking Resveratrol you would have no problem with), Resveratrol, in people, causes the body to think it is starving, in test tubes it prevents gonorrhea and meningitis and in grapevines wards it off fungus.

All this information has encouraged me to form my own company called 'Starving Over-Sexed Artists Being Blatantly Attacked by Mushroomlike Entities' or "S.O.S ABBA ME". As indicated in the Sixty Minutes piece, it would take one thousand bottles of wine to deliver the amount of Resveratrol found in one pill. My plan therefore is to sell miniaturized bottles of wine with one thousand bottles to the case. My only problem may be getting approval for the government health warning on the labels about the risks of drinking wine. The type may be too small to read without glasses.

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