by Aimee Levitt
The glory days of Mad Men, when doctors prescribed regular cigarette smoking and judiciously-administered (daily) glasses of alcohol, are, sadly, long gone -- except for red wine, that miracle drink that keeps us young and healthy while also getting us drunk. Good Lord how we love it!
For a long time, the health benefits of red wine were something doctors and scientists just knew, without knowing exactly why, except that if French people did it, it surely must be good because they are so much healthier and skinnier than we are. But now there's a possible explanation.
Here we go:
You probably already know -- thanks to countless magazine articles and lectures from your doctor -- that the best way to avoid type 2 diabetes and heart disease is to eat less crap, or, even better, to eat less altogether. But scientists discovered a few years back that resveratrol, a compound found in grapes and -- yes! -- red wine has the same effect on the subjects of animal studies as eating less. That is, they could continue to eat crap, but if they consumed resveratrol, too, they wouldn't develop diabetes or heart disease or other diseases that develop over years of irresponsible eating.
But the exact link between resveratrol and the biological processes has remained mysterious until recently. But a group of scientists from the National Institute of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) think they've finally figured it out.
When resveratrol gets into the system, it targets the skeletal muscles and inhibits the production of an enzyme called PDE4, which, in turn, raises levels of a cell signalling molecule called cAMP. Usually cAMP levels rise in response to low blood glucose levels, which requires effort on your part: you lower your blood glucose by eating less crap. But resveratrol makes it happen automatically.
Rising amounts of cAMP, in turn, stimulates production an enzyme called AMTK, which regulates the process by which the body turns fat into energy. More AMTK means more fat gets burned off. This is good. AMTK also affects production of proteins called sirtuins, which slow down the aging process, including impending Alzheimer's. This is also good.
For some reason, scientists have decided the best practical application of this knowledge is not prescribing red wine for everyone, but instead developing drugs that mimic the effects of resveratrol. In a recent experiment, described in greater detail in the latest issue of Cell, scientists from NHLBI gave a group of mice rolipram, a drug that, like resveratrol, inhibits PDE4. Then they fed the mice a high-fat diet. The mice experienced no ill effects. The mice in the control group, however, who also had a high-fat diet but no rolipram, became obese and developed glucose intolerance, an early sign of type 2 diabetes. Next up in the lab for drug testing is a panel of obese humans.
So celebrate this amazing scientific development. Or keep celebrating true love and Valentine's Day and all that. Or celebrate just because it's Wednesday. If you're like Gut Check, you'll take any excuse to raise a glass of red wine, or three.