test your knowledge
How the world got lost on
the road to an anti-aging pill
Subscribe to our newsletter to receive email notifications when new articles are posted.
August 18, 2012: by Bill Sardi
Joyce, 75 years old and struggling to maintain her eyesight, prepares for the worst. She had undergone 17 unsuccessful injections of medicine into her eyes without visual improvement. She had to pay hundreds of dollars for each injection while on a limited income. Her savings are now depleted. There is no place to turn. A friend advises her to try resveratrol pills. She says she will try them when she can get enough money to buy them. But if she doesn’t find help soon her vision may be permanently and irreversibly impaired.
Fortunately, an empathetic supplier of resveratrol (rez-vair-ah-troll) pills rush-ships her some samples. Within days her vision clears and within a few short weeks she is seeing well enough to pass her driver’s license vision test.
But now it’s time to revisit her eye doctor who has a pre-loaded needle and syringe ready when she enters the exam room. She attempts to explain that the resveratrol pill appears to have successfully rescued her failing sight when the doctor’s medicine didn’t. Her eye doctor placates her, believing herbal medicine is nothing more than a Ouija board, and says the injected medicine must have finally begun to work. The abnormal blood vessels invading the visual center at the back of her eyes receded and her wet macular degeneration had subsided. But her eyes get another round of medicine by needle injection anyway.
Some months later things worsen for Joyce. In a misdirection, after undergoing jaw surgery due to bone loss from recurrent infection, she elects to undergo hyperbaric oxygen treatment in an attempt to oxygenate gangrenous tissues in her jaw. But oxygenation elevates destructive oxygen free radicals at the back of her eyes and she loses a great deal of vision again.
On the eye chart her visual acuity is 20/400 to 20/600 in her worst eye. That means she has to stand 20 feet away from an eye chart to see what a normal person can see standing 400-600 feet away. Her eye doctor diagnoses an irreversible condition called geographic atrophy of the retina and says he has never seen a case improve. What now?
She goes back to using the resveratrol pills (Longevinex®) she had temporarily ceased using due to her jaw surgery. After a few days she thinks her vision is slightly improved in a corner of her vision. Then she is surprised to learn the vision in her worst eye has improved to 20/60. A subsequent eye exam shows her vision improves to 20/40, good enough for reading and driving. Her eye doctor is dumbfounded.
Ed is also in his early 70s. He had a prior bout of indigestion, then misdiagnosed as pancreatitis, that caused him to stay overnight in the hospital. Months later Ed, during a complete physical, has a cardiac angiogram performed. He has 5 blocked coronary arteries that supply oxygen to his heart. One coronary artery is more than 95% blocked. That prior pancreatitis might have actually been his heart acting up.
His heart doctor is befuddled. How could this man not have any symptoms, chest pain, shortness of breath or other typical symptoms and continue to play golf and drive a golf ball off the tee over 250 yards at his age?
Ed, like Joyce, wasn’t taking any drugs, just vitamin pills, including a resveratrol pill (Longevinex®) that was shown to turn mortal heart attacks into non-mortal events in the animal lab. Given the right dose, resveratrol will activate antioxidant defenses in the heart prior to a heart attack. Ed’s heart was strong and there were no areas of scarring from deprivation of oxygen. His cardiologist dismissed Ed’s claim that his resveratrol pill might be responsible for his symptom-free heart problem and went ahead to perform 5-artery heart bypass surgery. Ed is back playing golf and driving the ball far down the fairway. He says the resveratrol pill also improved his vision so he can see the ball.
It is clear that a cat-and-mouse game going on between doctors and patients over the red wine pill resveratrol.
This cat-and-mouse game is characterized by the never-ending game that patients must play with their doctors when it comes to “uproven” dietary supplements like resveratrol. Knowing their doctors are not very knowledgeable about so-called nutriceuticals like resveratrol, and anticipating their doctor will balk at the idea of taking a pill that is yet unproven and “not FDA approved,” patients launch their own unguided self care regimens, like Joyce and Ed.
Patients typically don’t inform their doctors they have started taking resveratrol pills, not wanting to be belittled over the idea. Then on their next visit to the doctor’s office, when the doctor says their blood sugar, or cholesterol, or vision has improved, only then does the patient reveal they have begun taking a resveratrol pill. At this point doctors act interested, placate their patients and then summarily dismiss them as unproven. This is despite the fact doctors themselves prescribe drugs that are often ineffective — statin cholesterol-lowering drugs being the best example, which have never been shown to prevent mortal heart attacks.
Doctors often hide behind their own gold standard, the double-blind placebo-controlled long-term study. So as soon as modern medicine completes a conclusive 99-year study of such a pill we will all have an answer to the question: is the red wine molecule resveratrol an anti-aging pill? Only then will doctors be convinced resveratrol is truly an anti-aging pill. Such a study is impractical if not beyond affordability. An anti-aging pill remains unproven, but not disproven. So has the road to an anti-aging pill reached a dead end? (No pun intended.)
Doctoring is geared to address each disease of aging as they individually occur, not tackle the underlying causes of aging altogether with one universal pill. Some enlightened doctors and researchers know that resveratrol pills spell the end of modern medicine as we know it. The new paradigm would be one pill for all instead of a separate pill for every disease. This subjects resveratrol to criticism it is a cure-all. Maybe it is.
Just briefly consider some of these revelations about resveratrol:
Are doctors ready to prescribe such a pill? It is unclear whether treatment guidelines would even allow them the freedom to use such a pill. Even if a resveratrol pill can out-perform man-made synthetic drugs, will doctors ever consider a pill that is not FDA approved, even though it may clearly be safer and more effective?
Some doctors are fully aware of the threat resveratrol poses. For example, while in India I hear a story of the leading heart surgeon there being pulled aside by a colleague and told not to consider using a resveratrol pill prior to surgery to prevent operating-table deaths because it has alleged side effects.
But don’t think this cat-and-mouse game is all one-sided. The patients are fooling themselves too. While it is certainly a buyers market – there are over 350 brands of resveratrol pills to choose from — shoppers incorrectly assume every resveratrol pill is the same. But many brands range from being ineffective to outright toxic because they provide a miniscule dose of resveratrol or a potentially toxic overdose. Overdoses of resveratrol can negate any of the proposed health benefits.
The price point of for many elderly consumers, living on a limited income, is about $10 for any kind of pill, prescription or dietary supplement. A recent survey shows about 46% of retirees live solely on Social Security checks. A $9 bottle of resveratrol pills is just too irresistible to a buyer with a limited income. But it may not solve their health problems. According to mouse studies, resveratrol works best only within a certain dosage range.
When one brand of resveratrol pill was shown to rescue elderly patients from their failing eyesight, about a dozen other brands changed their label to appear to be the same product. These pill makers were willing to mislead some elderly price-sensitive shoppers to make a quick buck. But there was absolutely no evidence these pills would save their sight. With the brand of resveratrol pill that was shown to restore vision to these otherwise helpless patients, genetic analysis showed that 84% of its ability to cause abnormal blood vessels to recede at the back of the eyes was produced by ingredients other than resveratrol. So patients using plain resveratrol pills may go on to suffer permanent vision loss.
It’s not like I’m talking about taking resveratrol to improve your skin tone or hair growth, I’m talking about blindness versus vision, sudden cardiac death versus survival. Buy the wrong brand and you may waste more than your money. Some consumers buy pretend resveratrol pills and hope they work for them.
How can it be said that a resveratrol pill is more effective than currently prescribed drugs when such a pill has not been put to the test in any human study? (There are a few small studies.) Answer: a now well-established gene-controlled mechanism called preconditioning which triggers cellular defenses in the heart prior to a heart attack is not even being employed by modern cardiology. Preconditioning also protects the brain and other tissues from damage should oxygen supply be impaired.
Resveratrol, in modest dose, triggers antioxidant defenses (heme oxygenase, glutathione, catalase and SOD) in heart muscle cells prior to a heart attack. The pharmaceutical industry says it is going to attempt to develop expensive drugs that pre-condition the heart against adverse events like strokes and heart attacks while casting resveratrol aside. But resveratrol has already been proven to do this.
Once damaged by a heart attack, heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) are very slowly replaced, leaving a scarred heart which pumps less efficiently. Resveratrol, and more so a particular brand resveratrol of pills that doubles the described protection, and limits the number of heart muscle cells that are damaged during a heart attack in the animal lab. There is no way this can ethically be demonstrated in humans without giving half the patients an inactive placebo pill and allowing them to die. Use of placebo pills, the current gold-standard of scientific proof, is unethical if there is already an existing treatment. Medicines need to be tested against existing drugs.
Cardiology is letting high-risk patients die. Baby aspirin tablets and statin cholesterol-lowering drugs do not reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack. The medicine cabinet of heart drugs is bare. But the patients continue to hear otherwise. It’s all part of the cat-and-mouse game.
Another unstated criteria doctors use before they embrace any given therapy is the income it generates. If it has an insurance billing code there is likely to be greater incentive to write scripts for it. Doctors receive insurance payments for a “drug consult” every time they prescribe an FDA-approved drug and zero payment for dietary supplements.
An example would be macular degeneration, a fast-progressive eye disease that primarily strikes seniors in their eighth-decade of life. An estimated 35,000 senior adults suffering from a fast-progressive form of blindness known as wet-macular degeneration are without hope. While existing drugs (Lucentis/Avastin) abnormal blood vessels to recede, blood vessels that invade the visual center (macula) of the eyes, these injected medicines aren’t effective in about 1 in 6-treated patients.
When a report was issued showing a special brand resveratrol pill reversed this eye disease when the exotic monoclonal antibody drugs didn’t, the maker of the resveratrol pills didn’t receive a single inquiry from eye physicians.
An expensive and time-consuming double-blind placebo-controlled study can be launched to prove this oral resveratrol pill may rescue patients who have failed injected-drug treatment. But again, not only would that be unethical (half the patients who received placebo pills would surely go blind) but also another 70,000 patients would needlessly lose their sight while two years are spent recruiting patients and tabulating data.
Ophthalmologists knew in 2007 that this brand of resveratrol pill reversed the disease but chose not to report it, probably in an effort to protect their incomes. They earn attractive fees for injecting medicines (~$180) into the eyes as well as kickbacks from drug manufacturers.
Eight years after the starting gun went off in the race to develop an anti-aging pill, a small number of consumers, being attracted to resveratrol by a growing body of glowing science, yet demanding assurances it won’t interfere with their prescription drugs and unwilling to pay more than about $10 for such pills, and fooling themselves that “any resveratrol pill will do,” ventures forward to take such a pill while doctors drag their feet over the idea. For the most part, patients will have to launch their own unguided experiment to take resveratrol pills rather than receive a blessing from their doctors. –Copyright 2012 Bill Sardi, ResveratrolNews.com Not for posting at other websites.