Fountains of Youth? Key ingredients in Mediterranean diet can extend life

Scientists from Harvard Medical School and Biomol research laboratory in Philadelphia report that two natural substances may hold the key to why those who eat a “Mediterranean diet” seem to be healthier and to live longer. Resveratrol is a polyphenol abundant in red wine and is thought to give wine its anticancer and anti-heart disease properties. Quercetin, found in olive oil and other foods such as apples, berries and onions, is an antioxidant bioflavonoid and has similar properties.

The researchers found that both resveratrol and quercetin significantly increased the lifespan of yeast. Since humans and yeast share many genes, the scientists believe the benefits should work for humans as well. The substances affect those genes that have been shown to extend the life of cells as a result of a calorie-restricted diet by enabling cells to live longer. In many life forms, the scientists explain, “calorie restriction slows the pace of aging and increases maximum lifespan.” Previous studies have suggested that severe calorie restriction can increase the lifespan of organisms like yeast, fruit flies, worms and rats.

When resveratrol was added to the mix, it was found to extend the life of some yeast cells by as much as 70%. The discovery that resveratrol and quercetin can increase the lifespan in yeast could help boost efforts to find a way to extend human life.

“It certainly brings us closer to being able to intervene pharmacologically in humans to extend longevity,” said Dr Konrad Howitz, one of the authors of the study. “I think it highlights the potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.”

BBC News, August 24, 2003