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Animal study: resveratrol keeps astronauts' muscles and bones strong

A team of French researchers may have found the solution: a compound that can protect astronauts' muscles and bones from the effects of weightlessness during long stays in space. The solution is resveratrol. And what's good enough for astronauts is good enough for athletes who for whatever reason cannot train, or elderly people suffering from osteoporosis or sarcopenia.

The researchers have not yet done any experiments on humans. Their publication, which will be published soon in FASEB Journal, describes an experiment with rats. The researchers made sure that the rats couldn't use their hind legs for 14 days in a row. Technically speaking, the animals were 'hypokinetic and hypodynamic hindlimb suspended' [HH]. A control group was allowed to move freely during the experiment [C].

Half of the group that were not allowed to use their hind limbs [HHR] and half of the group whose movement was not restricted [CR] were given 400 mg resveratrol [structural formula shown below] per kg bodyweight daily.

Supplementation started four weeks before the experiment began and continued until the end of the experiment. The rats were given the supplement orally.

Resveratrol, like a series of other plant compounds, activates the 'longevity protein' SIRT-1 in cells. SIRT-1 enables cells to repair themselves and, via the protein PGC-1-alpha, induces cells to produce more mitochondria. As a result, cells burn more fat and generate more energy.

In test tubes resveratrol is a perfect candidate for stimulating SIRT-1. But this might not be the case in humans, made of flesh and blood, because our metabolism removes resveratrol too quickly from the body. EGCG, a compound found in green tea, may be a more interesting proposition than resveratrol. EGCG also activates SIRT-1, but is less easily removed.

Whatever the case, the researchers discovered that resveratrol works. In the calf muscle of the mice [soleus], resveratrol boosted the synthesis of SIRT-1 and GPC1-alpha, and the synthesis of protective enzymes such as GPX [in both CR and HHR] and SOD [in HR]. Resveratrol also reduced weight loss in the calf muscle and the breakdown of all sorts of muscle tissue.

Animal study: resveratrol keeps astronauts' muscles and bones strong

Animal study: resveratrol keeps astronauts' muscles and bones strong

Animal study: resveratrol keeps astronauts' muscles and bones strong

Animal study: resveratrol keeps astronauts' muscles and bones strong

Animal study: resveratrol keeps astronauts' muscles and bones strong

The net synthesis of muscle proteins in the soleus increased as a result of supplementation. This also occurred to a small extent in the control group animals, although the effect was not statistically significant.

The positive effects of resveratrol were not only found in muscle mass. The substance also protected the bone mass from breaking down; resveratrol boosted bone density and bone strength.

Resveratrol is found in peanuts, grapes and cranberries. The quantities the researchers used are impossible to derive from an ordinary diet. You can make a rough but conservative estimate of the dose humans would need by dividing the dose the researchers used by ten. That would put it at 40 mg per kg bodyweight. So if you weight 70 kg you'd need 2.8 g of the stuff. That's a ludicrously high amount.

The researchers used a less conservative estimate, and arrived at 65 mg per kg. So if you weigh 70 kg you'd need 4.5 g per day. That's not ludicrously high it's just ridiculously high. Hopefully there are substances that boost the effect of resveratrol, so that such extreme doses wouldn't be needed.

FASEB J. 2011 Jun 29. [Epub ahead of print].

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