I am always intrigued when I hear news reports that red wine is good for you. Not that I really need more excuses to drink, but I do need excuses to watch TV. And news magazines that promote a long and healthy life through the moderate consumption of alcohol seem like a worthwhile investment in brain cells to me.
I was particularly attracted to a 60 Minutes teaser not too long ago, before I turned old, which suggested that a substance found in red wine can actually slow down the aging process. So in the modern day version of "turn on, tune in, and drop out", I turned on the TV, tuned into 60 Minutes, and dropped out of my shoes onto the couch.
Here is what I learned: the substance is Resveratrol and it is found in large concentrations in the skins of grapes. Resveratrol triggers something called the Sirtuin gene (as in Sirtuin death), a genetic survival mechanism that God built into our DNA so that we would be seduced into drinking more red wine.
It seems that scientists have known of the Sirtuin gene for a number of years. In fact, by manipulating this gene they have been able to significantly extend the life span of yeast. This may very well mean that the stale bagel in my refrigerator is still alive. And it certainly explains Dick Clark.
But of course, TV news magazines being what they are, I was severely misled by the teaser. There was a catch to the story. The good news is that in order to slow down the aging process I would need to drink around 1,000 bottles of red wine a day. The bad news is that the survival gene is more effectively triggered by something called "extreme calorie restriction." Outside the scientific community this is more commonly referred to as starvation.
Apparently, going hungry all day long can extend your life. It can also retard sex as the body delays reproduction and steels up to the relentless pressure of imminent death. I understand how I survived my hungry teenage years. But now my days may be numbered.
The case made by 60 Minutes news correspondent Morley Safer, who in real life is 500 years old, was fairly convincing. He visited the University of Wisconsin where aging research is kept alive through funding by the National Institutes of Health.
In one particular study a small collection of Rhesus monkeys was separated into two groups. A control group was fed a normal diet. The experimental group scarfed down a meager, but life sustaining thimble of mashed carrots each day.
Toward the end of their lifetime, around 27 years, the starving monkeys exhibited healthy coats, painless joints, strong hearts, and claw marks on the bars of their cages. In stark contrast, the fat, dumb, and happy control group endured arthritis, hair loss, and reading glasses.
The golden years may make a monkey out of me, but I know which group I would rather be in.
I am sure worms feel the same way. Scientists, in their never ending battle to thwart God, are starving them too. Imagine going through an eternal life without enough dirt to eat? It boggles the primitive nervous system.
Frankly, if I had my choice, I think I would rather live like yeast.
To me, the science behind aging is not all that surprising. But what is surprising is the number of people willing to endure extreme diets just so they might live longer. Sometimes called Bad Dinner Guests, these die-hards live on a life support diet of peas and pureed walnuts just so that they may eke out a few more years of life as X-Rays.
They are both dying and living for a Big Mac.
Not me. I am one of those life-affirming, positively annoying people who believe we should live life to the fullest, that we should embrace everyday as if it is our last, that anything beyond tomorrow is a gift. This is why I consume alcohol.
After all, why should I starve myself when I could be drinking a thousand bottles of wine every night watching The Biggest Loser?
This begs the obvious question: if a substance like Resveratrol, found naturally in grapes, can slow down the aging process, why are there raisins? And more importantly, why don't our enterprising biotech geniuses turn Resveratrol into a pill? Or at the very least, a banned substance?
It turns out they have. At one thousand bottles of wine a night it's called a liquor store. And until they come up with something more satisfying to swallow, I am willing to die full, young, and happy.