In the more prosaic language of the report, the news is simply this: Resveratrol, the natural compound found in red wine, has now been shown to improve the metabolism of human beings.
In the 2 November 2011 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers in the Netherlands and Switzerland report that a 30-day course of resveratrol brought about significant improvement in the basic metabolic functions of obese men.
Research using animals has shown that resveratrol can have a number of benefits related to how the body uses energy. In some species, resveratrol has been shown to increase average longevity. In other experiments involving lab animals, a reduction of 30-50% in calorie intake below what the animals normally eat has been shown to benefit the metabolism and extend the lifespan. Others studies show that resveratrol seems to mimic the effects of calorie restriction.
Now come hints that resveratrol may have some of these same effects on human beings. In the Cell Metabolism article, researchers report that the men who received the 150mg/day dose of resveratrol showed a number of changes that mimic what happens with calorie reduction. 150mg is about 100 times the amount of resveratrol found in an ordinary glass of red wine.
One of the researchers, Patrick Schrauwen, commented on the study in a press release issued by Maastricht University in the Netherlands: “We saw a lot of small effects, but consistently pointing in a good direction of improved metabolic health.” The study was concluded after 30 days, and so long-term benefits or side-effects are not known.
In particular, no one knows whether resveratrol has the capacity to extend the human lifespan. But the positive results published on 2 November will surely intensify the debate over the effects and the ethics of resveratrol.
In this study, resveratrol was administered to men who were obese but otherwise healthy. One way some bioethicists distinguish between morally legitimate “therapy” and morally questionable biomedical “enhancement” is by insisting that medicine must stick to treating those with disease. It is unethical, these bioethicists argue, to “enhance” people by using medicine to benefit those who are not sick. Their views are challenged by others who believe that technology should be used for human enhancement.
While this study may have observed that moral limit of treating only those with a “disease,” there is little reason to believe that the metabolic benefits of resveratrol are limited to those who are obese. On the contrary, there is every reason to think that this study will be used by advocates of human enhancement. In particular they will see this as the best evidence yet that resveratrol can be used to extend the human lifespan.
My prediction is that this study will encourage more widespread use of resveratrol. Most who use it will be seeking some form of enhancement if not an increase in longevity.
The article, “Calorie restriction-like effects of 30 days of resveratrol (resVidaTM) supplementation on energy metabolism and metabolic profile in obese humans,” appears in the 2 Nov 2011 issue of Cell Metabolism, where it is available free to the public.