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Seeking Immortality: Does the Secret to Immortality Come in a Red Wine Pill?

By Jay Dixit

What if you could take a pill that would add 30 healthy years to your life?

Keeping the Grim Reaper at BayPaul McGlothin believes such a pill may exist. It’s called Longevinex, and it contains resveratrol, a chemical also found in red wine. Mr. McGlothin, the CEO of an advertising company in Westchester, has been taking it since January and he thinks it is one of the keys to living a Methuselan life. “In medieval times, you had the alchemists looking for the fountain of youth,” he said. “Now, for the first time in history, people might have the opportunity to postpone death.”

Now in his mid-50s, Mr. McGlothin’s goal is to live as healthily as possible for as long as possible, and he’s spent much of his life trying to make it happen. For the past 10 years, he’s practiced calorie restriction, an austere diet that requires him to exercise vigorously but consume less than 2,000 calories a day, 30% fewer than what is typically recommended for a man his size. So far, the results have been astounding. He has the vital signs of an Olympian, with 8% body fat and a resting heart rate of 39 beats a minute, though he admits that, at 5 feet, 11 1 /2 inches and 133 pounds, he looks like an elf compared to the other people at his gym.

Calorie restriction has been proven to improve the health and extend the life of every animal tested so far, from fruit flies to mice, boosting life spans in rodents by 30% to 50%. Many believe the same holds true for people. Calorie restriction works by activating an antiaging gene that kicks your body into survival mode. If your body thinks you are starving, it slows the aging process to give you more time to pass along your genes.

As a result, Mr. McGlothin said, his calorie-restricted diet made him healthier than 99.9% of people on the planet, even before he started taking Longevinex.Then, last August, he heard about a study done by David Sinclair at the Harvard Medical School and Karl Howitz at Biomol Laboratories that showed that a chemical in red wine called resveratrol drastically increases lifespan in yeast. At first, he was skeptical. “This is like taking one of the world’s best tennis players and telling them that you’re going to make them about 30% better,” he remembered thinking. But in January, he ordered Longevinex over the Internet and started taking it. To measure its effectiveness, he tracked health markers in his body: blood glucose, fatty acids, low-density lipids, insulin, and the rate of cell death.

“When I got the results back, my mouth fell open. I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. McGlothin said. “It was all lining up like a perfect piece by Mozart.” All his health markers were even better than before. His rate of cell death had slowed; he now had the blood pressure of a 10-year-old, about 102/59.

The results, he said, suggest that people unwilling to practice calorie restriction might still be able to extend their lives by taking resveratrol. A mouse study is planned at the National Institute of Aging. If those results are promising, human testing will begin soon after.

Scientists first became interested in resveratrol as a way to explain the so-called French paradox – the fact that the French eat a diet soaked in artery-clogging fat, but don’t suffer higher rates of cardiovascular illness than other people. Many believe this may be because red wine is so rich in resveratrol. In fact, claims Bill Sardi, the president of Longevinex, people who live in the wine-producing regions of France live 25% to 45% longer than the rest of the French. He also points out that the longest-living woman ever, a Frenchwoman named Jeanne Clement who lived to the age of 122, was a connoisseur of port, and that the longest-living man, a Sardinian named Antonio Todde, drank two glasses of red wine a day until he died at age 112. Longevinex, he says, provides the same amount of resveratrol as five to 15 glasses of red wine – and does it without the calories, sulfites, or headaches.

Of course, there’s a big difference between yeast and people, and it would be premature to claim that resveratrol pills definitively prolong life in human beings. “There’s not one study showing this ever working in a pill,” Mr. Sardi acknowledged. “The only evidence we have of this working in humans is in wine.”

In fact, the resveratrol longevity studies are so recent that scientists have yet to conduct a study on mice, the best choice for a quick mammal study since their lifes pans are so short. “Ultimately, this has to be tested in humans, and given our lifespan, we’re not going to find this out for decades and decades,” said Dr. Howtiz, co-author of the resveratrol longevity study. “But it is suggestive. The emerging story in aging research over the last decade is how surprisingly conserved the longevity pathway is from worms to fruit flies to humans.”

The idea of selling resveratrol is not new. Companies have sold such pills in the past, but since resveratrol breaks down when exposed to light or air, those pills were basically useless by the time they reached consumers. Leroy Creasy, a former professor of plant science at Cornell University, determined that you would have to swallow hundreds of such pills to equal the amount in a highresveratrol wine such as pinot noir. But Longevinex works differently, preserving resveratrol in an airtight liquid capsule licensed from a Pfizer subsidiary, sealing it in with nitrogen the same way a corked wine bottle does.

Because resveratrol wasn’t in common use when the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act passed in 1994, the FDA still considers it a drug. 1091 1751 1206 1763But until clinical trials are done, it can only be sold as a dietary supplement, not prescribed by a doctor. As a result, even though Longevinex contains 1,500 milligrams of resveratrol per capsule, it is marked simply as “red wine extract.” A 30-capsule packet can be purchased atwww.longevinex.comfor $34.95.

In yeast and flies, resveratrol increases longevity by mimicking the activity of calorie restriction, activating the same antiaging gene. The chemical is produced by grapes as a response to stress – fungus, drought, or too much sun. As a result, resveratrol might be a signal to the human body, telling it that if grapes are fighting for their lives, the food supply may be in danger. If the body senses that starvation is imminent, it may flip the survival switch the same way it does if calories are actually restricted.

“Could this be a signal that goes along with calorie restriction?” Dr. Howitz said. “All of a sudden, your food supply is all stressed out and shriveling up and making these molecules – does this give your body a preliminary clue that you are going to be calorie restricted?”

“I’m convinced that resveratrol is a valuable dietary component, and has a lot of effects, and by God, I hope longevity is one of them. No one would benefit more than me,” Dr. Creasy said. “But the signal hypothesis is nonsense. I’m not going to pay a dollar a pill till I hear more,” he added.

Other scientists are equally skeptical. “There are thousands of genes in cells stimulated by caloric restriction,” said Michael Alderman, an epidemiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “To focus on one in 36,000 is interesting but not likely to be very productive.”

But Mr. McGlothin isn’t waiting. “People only have so much time on this earth, and I want to make the most of mine,” he said. “I see no reason to wait until all the skeptics have been satisfied, because if you continue to do that, you’d be dead before all the answers are in.”

First appeared in The New York Sun, July 12, 2004. SECTION: HEALTH & FITNESS; Pg. 18