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Resveratrol — Can You Really Eat Whatever and Live to 120?

Resveratrol — Can You Really Eat Whatever and Live to 120?

THERE’S AN INTRIGUING FINDING of a recent study from Harvard researcher David Sinclair and his group: “Live to 120 years old by eating as much as you want and drinking lots of red wine!”

The only catch is that you’d have to drink about 1,500 bottles of wine a day to get those results. Of course, that would kill you pretty quickly — before you’d have a chance to reach age 120! Still, those are important findings…

In fact, Dr. Sinclair thinks they’re so important that he started a company to produce a pharmaceutical derivative of the active compound in red wine, resveratrol.

Although his findings have merit, I think he is misguided in his attempt to find a “magic pill” that will allow you to eat whatever you want and live forever. The body is much more complex than that.

This week, I’m going to explain why a magic pill WON’T work — and provide 10 tips that really WILL help you live longer and prevent all the diseases of aging.

Why “Magic Pills” Don’t Work

Don’t get me wrong. Dr. Sinclair is on the right track. But I believe he’s focused on the wrong thing. In looking for that “magic pill,” he’s not taking into account the bigger picture. That approach will always fail.

Sure, there has been a lot of fanfare about this new “drug” resveratrol that can extend your life span and let you eat whatever you want and have the fitness of a trained athlete without any exercise. But that’s wrong on a couple of counts …

First, resveratrol isn’t a drug at all. It’s a natural plant defense molecule, or “phytonutrient,” that’s found in grapes (and therefore red wine), as well as in peanuts, berries, and a Chinese herb called hu zhang.

Second, all the excitement reinforces the idea that a single molecule (whether from a drug or a plant) can solve all our health problems. In functional medicine we look at ALL the systems of the body. We need to consider resveratrol as just ONE of many healthful plant compounds.

You see, resveratrol is just one of thousands of polyphenols, which make up just one class of phytonutrients. These phytonutrients act in many ways, the most important of which is as a genetic control system, turning on and off genes that help us stay healthy.

This is the science of nutrigenomics — which describes how food is information that tells our bodies what to do, not just a source of calories we need for energy.

I believe that all the excitement about resveratrol is misguided. Everyone is looking for a quick fix, and scientists (especially ones who start pharmaceutical companies to market their discoveries) are looking to make a quick buck.

This seems incredible! But it’s all very plausible if you understand the root causes of obesity, aging, and disease. Those causes are blood sugar control and the health, number, and function of your mitochondria.

There is nothing wrong with either. But in order to find the real secret to longevity and to healthy aging and fitness, we need to look at how this compound works and learn from that how to keep ourselves healthy.

The secret lies in our mitochondria.

Mitochondria: The Real Secret to Healthy Aging and Lifelong Fitness

Mitochondria are the little organs in every cell that turn oxygen and food into energy.

For now, let’s examine two recent studies that shed light on these mighty little organs that hold the key to health, weight loss, and longevity.

In the first study, published in Nature, Dr. Sinclair and his colleagues gave one group of mice a diet high in fat (60 percent of calories). What happened then was interesting …

In middle age they all became obese, got diabetes and fatty livers, and died early.

Another group of mice were fed the same diet, but also received resveratrol at a dose of 24 mg/kg of body weight. That’s the equivalent of the amount of resveratrol found in about 750 to 1,500 bottles of wine a day! What happened to those mice was even more interesting …

They still got fat — but lived longer and did not develop diabetes. They were also more agile and had more endurance than the rats that didn’t get the resveratrol. Interestingly, their cholesterol profiles didn’t improve — BUT they didn’t get heart disease, showing that cholesterol is not the big evil we think it is.

Let’s take a closer look at what these findings really mean.

In this study, resveratrol produced changes associated with longer lifespan and produced the following biologic effects:

  • It increased insulin sensitivity, leading to better blood sugar control.
  • It reduced levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-I), a molecule related to the growth hormone that promotes cancer growth.
  • It increased AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a signaling system in the body that controls insulin sensitivity and can prevent diabetes.
  • It increased peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor coactivator-1 (PGC-1) activity. This is a critical signaling system that turns on genes that improve blood sugar control and improve mitochondrial function.
  • It increased the numbers of mitochondria, which boosts the capacity to turn food into energy and burn calories.
  • It improved motor function, making the old rats more agile.
  • And finally, the resveratrol helped prevent the effects of aging by modifying 144 out of 153 metabolic pathways that are controlled by genes.

This all sounds good. And it is! But the most important thing that these findings tell us is ignored by Sinclair and his colleagues.

They tell us that aging and disease are controlled in large part by SUGAR and insulin function in the body!

In a moment I will explain how you can use this information to reverse disease, lose weight, and live longer and healthier. But first, let me tell you about the second study, which in some ways was even more dramatic.

That study, which was published in Cell by Johan Auwerx from the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cell Biology in Illkirch, France, tested much higher doses of resveratrol in mice. These doses were 18 times higher than those in the first study. That’s 400 mg/kg of resveratrol — equal to about 360 daily capsules of resveratrol for a 130-pound person!

Imagine achieving the fitness of a trained athlete, staying thin, preventing diabetes and heart disease, and living to 120 years old — all while eating a high-calorie, high-fat diet (and taking 360 pills a day of resveratrol)! That’s the equivalent of what happened to the rats.

Specifically, the rats fed the high doses of resveratrol along with their high-calorie, high-fat diet showed the following effects:

  • They did NOT gain weight, and reduced the size of fat cells.
  • They didn’t develop pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
  • They increased the number of energy-producing mitochondria in their muscle cells.
  • Their metabolic thermostat was turned up and they increased fat burning by increasing thermogenesis.
  • They increased their endurance and aerobic capacity (without exercise).
  • They maintained their cells’ sensitivity to insulin, resulting in better blood sugar control.

Plus, they had enhanced muscle strength, reduced muscle fatigue, and improved coordination. And resveratrol increased the activity of PGC-1 alpha, which in turn controls genes that affect blood sugar control — with no bad effects on their organs.

This seems incredible! But it’s all very plausible if you understand the root causes of obesity, aging, and disease. Those causes are blood sugar control and the health, number, and function of your mitochondria.

It’s unlikely that taking ONLY resveratrol — even at high doses — will allow us to live a life of sloth and gluttony and be disease-free forever. But what these studies do tell us is VERY important.

When we view these findings from a systems perspective — understanding ALL the influences on blood sugar control, insulin, and our mitochondrial function — we can create a lifestyle and program that works to keep us healthy, thin, and young.

Taking a magic pill just won’t do the trick. Especially with all the other real-life insults that affect us, such as poor diet, stress, environmental toxins, and a sedentary lifestyle — all of which affect blood sugar control and mitochondria.

Recently, I was at a conference on longevity and aging and had a chance to converse with Dr. Leonard Guarente from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1995, Dr. Guarente discovered a gene called SIR-2 in yeast that controls longevity. He was a teacher of David Sinclair, who authored one of the recent studies on resveratrol I discussed above.

I asked Dr. Guarente what REALLY was at the root of the effects of this master gene that controls longevity (called SIRT-1 in humans). Resveratrol works through this gene. His answer was quite simple. It was…


This gene has its master effects on aging by improving how the body controls sugar and insulin sensitivity.

This isn’t really surprising. All the effects of aging are increased by worsening blood sugar control — even before you get diabetes. People with diabetes have smaller and more poorly functioning mitochondria and get cancer, heart disease, and dementia at far greater rates than the general population.

So if we could fix our blood sugar control and boost our mitochondria, we could live longer and disease-free.

Considering this, let’s look at the big picture again…

Taking a magic pill just won’t do the trick. That’s especially true if you factor in all the other real-life insults that affect us, such as poor diet, stress, environmental toxins, and a sedentary lifestyle — all of which affect blood sugar control and mitochondria.

Instead, you need to know ALL the factors that DAMAGE your blood sugar control and mitochondria. And you need to know ALL the factors that IMPROVE or boost your blood sugar control and mitochondria.

These are just the back-to-the-basics principles of functional medicine that I’ve been talking about for years — identify the bad stuff and take it away; identify the good stuff and add it.

So what can you do to live longer and stay disease-free — other than drink 1,500 bottles of wine or take 360 pills of resveratrol a day? Here is just a partial list!

Ten Tips to Help You Live a Longer and Healthier Life

  1. Balance your blood sugar. I outline how in UltraMetabolism: increase your intake of whole foods that contain lots of fiber, such as beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
  2. Eat protein with every meal. This helps balance your blood sugar. Include nuts, beans, fish, lean animal protein, and omega-3 eggs in your diet.
  3. Increase your intake of omega-3 fats. These improve blood sugar control by working on the same cell-signaling mechanisms as resveratrol. Eat wild fish (salmon, sardines, black cod, and herring) or take omega-3 fatty acid pills (1,000 to 2,000 mg of EPA and DHA a day).
  4. Eliminate or dramatically limit flour products. That means anything with sugar from any source.
  5. Find ways to relax every day. This prevents diabetes and controls your blood sugar by reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
  6. To boost your mitochondria, you will need to exercise and build muscle. Try interval training, a technique of exercising fast (like sprinting) for one minute and then more slowly (like fast walking) for three minutes. Repeat this in cycles totaling 30 minutes twice a week.
  7. Eat foods with phytonutrients. There are many protective ones other than resveratrol, including those found in green tea, pomegranate, and all dark, colorful fruits and vegetables.
  8. Consider supplements that help protect and boost your mitochondria. These include Coenzyme Q10 (100 to 200 mg a day), acetyl-l-carnitine (500 to 1,000 mg twice a day), alpha-lipoic acid (100 to 200 mg twice a day), D-ribose (5 g once or twice a day), magnesium (150 to 300 mg twice a day), B-complex vitamins (daily), and NADH (5 to 10 mg a day).
  9. Live clean and green. Limit your exposure to heavy metals, pollution, and other environmental toxins — all of which poison your mitochondria.

Learn how to detoxify. Support your body’s detoxification system and your liver function.

This is just a start of what you can do.

Just remember — you will need to take a comprehensive approach to health, leveraging the latest research to help you improve your metabolism, stay thin, and live longer. There are no quick fixes. But addressing your whole system will give you a huge advantage!

Now I’d like to hear from you …

What do you think about the constant drive to find a “magic pill” to cure all our health woes?

Have you experienced any instances of looking at the big picture of your health versus trying to solve all your problems with a “magic pill”? What were the results?

Have you tried taking resveratrol supplements? Did you notice any effects?

What are you doing to improve your mitochondrial function?

Have you experienced any health or weight loss benefits by getting your own blood sugar and insulin under control?

Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Mark Hyman MD is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

Comments (25)

  • Dr. Hyman,
    I am a healthy 50 year old woman who made a conscious decision to lose weight and stumbled across your book, The Ultrasimple Diet, in the store. Purchasing that little book is all it took for me to lose 20 pounds and develop a new and healthier diet. It was very educational and made sense. I am an acitve tennis player, but was living a high stress life w/ the unhealthy eating habits that went along with it. So my excercise levels haven’t changed, only my eating habits.
    It has been almost a year, and it seems my body has “reset” to the appropriate weight. I never dreamed I could be the same weight and size I was in my twenties, but I am, and it was pretty easy. When people ask me what I did, I tell them about your book, but I also say: “I’m just eating much smarter and more often.” Thank you.

  • I read a story that quoted a study used very low doses of resveratrol, that had equally good effects – macrophage activity etc. So, I think low doses of resveratrol will benefit. I do agree with you that the magic pill is not something we can count on. We have to have a comprehensive approach. However I’d take a 400mg resveratrol in addition to all that you mentioned above.
    A quote from the study (on mice ofcourse…) ” “Resveratrol is active in much lower doses than previously thought and mimics a significant fraction of the profile of caloric restriction at the gene expression level,” said researcher Tomas Prolla from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    BTW, what do you thin of fasting occasionally ? what frequency ? or reduce calories on a daily basis?


  • I enjoyed reading of your article above, thanks for reaching out to people like me, I am a diabetic patient, I got a lot of help from reading of your article, thanks again.

  • First of all, thank you, I am at the beginning of a big journey back to health, Diabeties, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Sleep Apnea, and sever Candida for 25 years.
    this all started with an under active Thyroid Gland, putting on 5 stone in one year, and losing a lot of my hair., I was undiagnosed for 10 years, falling asleep all over the place, etc. I am a 64 year old female, and was so sick 10 years ago that they said I would never work again, well I have been on a Cpap machine for 10 years and am now tutoring adults, so that is good. But have been told by my Doctor that I need a complete life change, I am going to see my Doctor and show him what you have written, I want to be off all these drugs hopefully by the end of 2011, and the threat of stroke etc off me. Thank you, I will keep in touch.
    Dawn Burne New Zealand.

  • In answer to your questions above–one of the reasons why I follow you is that you use common sense to health and wellness–there is no magic bullet–there is only awareness and focusing on doing the best we can to stay away from toxins and to keep nutrients circulating around our bloodstream so that cells have access to the nutrients they need at any given moment in time–as the repair and replace. I do take a resveratrol product called VIVIX from Shaklee Corporation-developed with University of Georgia to add muscadine grape to the resveratrol polyphenols–to clean out the sludge from cells, to recharge mitochondria and to make more, to protect DNA, especially as it replicates and to make sure that typographical errors that sometimes happens when we are producing new cells–die immediately. The sludge removal is one more step in allowing the nutrients to get into the cells to do their work–or protect the cellular walls as well. Antioxidants like C, E, Selenium -the longer acting, less powerful protection, and the polyphenols that are fast acting and strong. I take natural supplements and have for 31 years–I no longer have any anti-nuclear antibody titer–from lupus and other autoimmune problems–have a family full of rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetics, scleraderma, grave’s disease (I had that as a young girl) and no am free of those–my sedimentation rate is normal–has been for12 years now–I know the benefits of healthy living–dietary changes, exercise, balance in life–I believe that prevention will be our salvation–and that diets do not work–live-its do though.
    I have noticed profound effects from using Vivix–simply more energy–not nervous energy, just well-being–my husband has too. We have seen the results of many changes in people we care about–tremors gone, COPD problems gone and many more such things. But it is not the only thing–we need nutieints and polyphenols–we need antioxidants–and we need to stay away from toxins–we have been using toxic free products in our home for 31 years–and enjoy excellent health at age 67–people do not know we are that age. We have no joint pains, no restrictions on what we can and cannot do. I take thyroid meds due to ablation of thyroid gland at age 14 from Grave’s Disease. That’s it. That was 50+ years ago!1

  • I doubt that’s what it is. Your done growing by your age. I would see a doctor, it could be almost anything and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  • Doctor thank you for your help. I have generally a sandwich every day for lunch (turkey) but iam confused as to what type of bread you mentioned whole geains but i also read where whole grain wheat is no good. Plase advise

  • I think our culture wants the best of both worlds. They want to eat anything and drink anything as it can “cure” unhappiness (temporarily) but then they want a magic pill to fix it all. They don’t want to do the work.

    I have an argument with myself daily about health and sure an easy fix would be fabulous. But I know it won’t work.

    I’m someone that has read your books, read your website and watches your videos but I still can’t seem to break away from certain foods. Yet until I do this I will feel unhealthy and my state of health will continue to be out of balance. I fight daily with nostalgic hunger pains for certain foods or flavors. So far they continue to win although for the most part my diet is natural and organic and I try to eat 100% gluten free. I hope to find a local doctor who can help me with the final push toward this type of eating.

  • You mentioned a long list of mitochondria-protective and energy-boosting nutrients. Where do I get these nutrients? Do they come in the Adult Essential Kit?

  • Hi Dr. Hyman,
    I am impressed by what I have read and the suggestions you have given. I’m 83 and used to think I was in good health but my dry Macular degeneration is not as good as it was and I have sleep apnea as well as osteo arthritis. I eat a very healthy diet and do exercises but would love to hear any suggestions you might have to preserve my eye sight and general health. I am trying to lose at least 10 pounds and believe this might help my arthritic knees I am starting to take Reservatrol and I use 20 Ml of Lutein.. Does using the computer do any harm to my Macular degeneration? I would really miss being able to use my computer. Thanks much for any input you can give me. Eileen Stanton

    • Hi Eileen,

      Not to worry about the computer but yes, keep up with the diet for eye health. Think about adding as many brightly hued fruits and vegetables as you can into each meal and snack as you can- even shakes!

      In good health,

  • What do you think about Herbalife products? Is this enough or should I take something in addition to this besides just my good diet, sleep, and excercise that you suggested in your article? Also, would taking Resveratrol benefit me more by adding it to my Herbalife products?

  • I have yet to see convincing evidence that supplementation has any benefit. I’ll stick with whole, natural foods and exercise 5 days a week.

  • DNA mitochondria (n-DNA) is arranged in a ring configuration much like that seen in bacteria and is invested with protective protiens called histones, which serve to regulate it function. A significant player in detoxificaton chemistry is glutathione. Studies show Turmeric (curcumin) stimulates your body to produce glutathione. I think we all agree our food is void of these phytonutrients so yes, supplements help. And yes, we all need to fast (not eat) more.

  • hi, this is great info, can you recommend supplement for kids to achieve to help with mitochondria function?

    • Hi Anne,

      Children require different dosages of supplements and certain dietary recommendations specific to their growth and development. It is best to work with a trained nutritionist to find a plan most appropriate for your childs needs. For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

  • I enjoyed reading the information your provided. I am 36 and I have been taking 1000mg of reservatrol for a little while now. I was a hopeful believer that this so called “magic pill” would help me. I was told I have LP(a) when I was 31. LP (a) is a sticky substance created by your own blood that makes you more likey to strokes, heart disease and heart attacks. This blood disorder is 10 times worse then having bad cholesterol. I have 2 young children and of course as a mother my first thought goes to them. I have done a lot of research on LP(a) but the studies are on going and not to many answers are available at this time. I have been put on omega 3 pills as well as Niacin by my doctor. I am doing everything I can to live a heathy life style but with 2 small children it is not always easy to do and eat the right things. I was wondering if you have any insight into the LP(a) condition I have and if you have any suggestions that might help me. Thank you…