The elite men of the 2006 NY marathon (847 x 725

More on the benefits of resveratrol, the substance in red wine that is associated with longevity. It turns out it also enhances exercise endurance—in mice at least:

In a paper published in the November 16, 2006 issue of the journal Cell, a team of French investigators added more fuel to the red-hot topic of resveratrol, the chemical in red wine that has been reported to have beneficial effects on longevity.

The researchers, led by Dr. Johan Auwerx from the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in Illkirch, France, fed two groups of mice a high-calorie diet that caused them to develop a disease similar to type 2 diabetes. One group of mice also received resveratrol in their diet; the other did not. The two groups of mice were then tested for physical endurance by running on a treadmill. The resveratrol group, it turned out, had double the endurance of the control group. Pretty impressive.

The investigators demonstrated that the basis for this new-found endurance is an increase in the activity of mitochondria. Mitochondria are small organelles present in cells that provide the energy required to carry out normal cell functions. Increasing the activity of mitochondria means, in molecular terms, that more glucose—ultimately derived from the food we ingest—is oxidized by oxygen to yield more ATP. ATP is the molecule in cells that stores energy and makes it available, when needed, so that different enzymes can perform their functions. These enzyme-dependent functions form the basis of cellular life.

So, in brief, resveratrol increases endurance by facilitating a more efficient utilization of oxygen by the mitochondria. This results in a higher production of energy in the form of ATP. More stored energy allows longer endurance of physical activities.

Ah ha, you may be thinking, I am fat and out of shape, but I have always wanted to run a marathon. So, I’ll drink a couple of glasses of red wine before the next marathon and cruise to the finish line. Think again. It turns out you would have to drink very large amounts of vino to equal the amounts of resveratrol the mice ingested. Even if you were able to drink that much (many, many, many bottles of the red stuff), you would almost certainly not be able to run the race—or even find the race—or even still be thinking about the race.

Too bad, for a nanosecond, it sounded like a better strategy than (ugh!) putting in the miles to train for the race.

In tomorrow’s post, I will explore another mechanism to enhance mitochondrial activity:  aerobic exercise. Yes, there is a connection between aerobic exercise, mitochondria, and improved cell function. Stay tuned.

Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD
Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD loves to write about the brain and human behavior as well as translate complicated basic science concepts into entertainment for the rest of us. He was a professor at the University of California San Francisco before leaving to enter the world of biotech. He served as the Chief Medical Officer of biotech companies, including Aphton Corporation. He also founded and served as the CEO of Madah Medica, an early stage biotech company developing products to improve post-surgical pain control. He is now retired and enjoys working out, following the stock market, travelling the world, and, of course, writing for TDWI.