Dec. 20, 2012 at 1:14 PM ET
A compound found in red wine, fruits and vegetables can help slow aging by making two anti-aging genes work together better, scientists in Hong Kong report. While they were working in mice, they hope their findings can shed light on efforts to slow aging in people.
Their finding, published in the December issue of Cell Metabolism, builds on their work in 2005 that shed light on premature aging, or progeria, a rare genetic disease that affects one in four million babies.
Kids with progeria start to develop symptoms before they turn a year old. Although their mental faculties are normal, they stop growing, lose body fat and suffer from wrinkled skin and hair loss. Like old people, they have stiff joints and a buildup of plaque in arteries that can lead to heart disease and stroke. Most die before they are 20 years old.
The team at the University of Hong Kong found in 2005 that a mutation in the gene for Lamin A protein, which lines the nucleus in human cells, disrupted the repair process in cells, causing accelerated aging in mice.
In their latest work using both mice and experiments in lab dishes, they found that normal and healthy Lamin A activates the gene SIRT1, which experts have long associated with longevity.
"We can develop drugs that mimic Lamin A or increase the binding between Lamin A and SIRT1," Liu Baohua, research assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Hong Kong, told a news conference on Thursday.
The team went further to see if Lamin A and SIRTI could work together better if boosted with resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of red grapes and other fruits that some scientists and companies suggest can help slow aging.
"It has been under hot debate whether resveratrol directly activates SIRT1," they wrote in their report.
Associate professor Zhou Zhongjun, who led the study, said healthy mice fed with concentrated resveratrol lived longer than healthy mice not given the compound.
"We actually delayed the onset of aging and extended the healthy lifespan," Zhou said. Mice with progeria lived 30 percent longer when fed with resveratrol compared with mutant mice not given the compound.
Asked if their study supported the notion that drinking red wine delays aging and reduces the risk of heart disease, Zhou said the alcohol content in wine would cause harm before any benefit could be derived.
"The amount of resveratrol in red wine is very low and it may not be beneficial. But the alcohol will cause damage to the body," Zhou said.