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Figure 1: Molecules of resveratrol
Figure 2: Acetylation process
Figure 3: Histones wrapped with DNA strands
Figure 4: Chromosome unraveled
The biological process of aging is a mystery. Many definitions are applied to and much controversy surrounds the discussion about aging, yet its true nature is still uncertain. A number of scientists believe that aging is not a biological process that beings are subject to undergo throughout time; rather, they believe that aging is mainly multiple environmentally induced changes in the basic biological system. True, there are some genetic components, but only a few, because approximately 80% of the aging process seems to be self-induced. A major cause is overeating, followed by smoking, sunbathing, lack of exercise and psychological stress. Because there are many repair mechanisms in the body, it seems unlikely that there would also be a death gene or something that is designed to terminate life at a relatively early age. Of all the anti-aging methods proposed, and all the drugs and chemicals advertised, only one method appears to work, at least in mice, and that is dietary restriction.
One group of scientists working to understand aging mechanisms and age intervention discovered that a certain chemical, when taken orally, could provide similar benefits as offered by dietary restriction.1, 2 Essentially, three groups of mice were studied for the effects of dietary restriction. One group was allowed unlimited food known as “ad lib;” a second group was given an ad lib diet plus a natural chemical from red wine; and a third group was put on a caloric-restriction diet. The results showed that the caloric-restriction group and the ad lib group with the natural chemical from red wine lived the same length of time and enjoyed a similar health benefit. The ad lib group all died early. The natural chemical from red wine used in this study was resveratrol, which is the topic of this article.
Resveratrol is a plant compound, chemically known as 3,5,4’-trihydrostilbene, a member of the stilbene family, which is a group of compounds that is made up of two aromatic rings and is joined by a link known as a methylene bridge. (See Figure 1.) There are more than 30 stilbenes in the plant kingdom, but resveratrol is the parent molecule of a group of compounds known as viniferinsa, a family of phytoalexin polymers that prevents bacterial and fungal infections in plants. The phytoalexin are produced by the plant as a defense mechanism.
Although resveratrol is found in at least 72 plants, it is not found in many of the edible ones; peanuts and grapes seem to be the major edible sources. A weed that grows in Eastern Asia known as Polygonum cuspidatum is the richest natural source of resveratrol.
Much of the research into aging mechanisms centers on cell growth and the control of cell growth. One gene that has been studied extensively in lower life forms in this regard is silent information regulator 2 (Sir2) proteins, or sirtuins. They are enzymes characterized as deacetylases/mono-ADP-ribosyltransferases and are found in many organisms, ranging from bacteria to humans.