In our last article we talked about how blueberries were such an awesome superfood because they contained a special ingredient called pterostilbene. And pterostilbene plays some kind of role in longevity by activating the AMPK pathway.
Well, there’s another reason why pterostilbene is all the craze these days: research shows that pterostilbene is a sirtuin and therefore activates the SIRT1 gene.
What’s so special about the SIRT1 gene you may ask?
To answer that, we have to give you a brief history of man’s quest to finding the secret sauce for ‘anti-aging’.
Anti-aging means different things to different people. For example, for some it means adding years to life, while for others, adding life to years is also interpreted as anti-aging.
And of all the research that have been done on the topic, it seems like calorie restriction is the only thing that help you on your quest for living longer.
What’s also interesting is that this has been observed in every animal tested so far. From simple lifeforms like yeast to complex ones like fish, rodent, dogs, monkey; the result is the same - calorie-restricted diet is the closest thing we have to anti-aging.
However, going on a calorie-restricted diet isn’t ideal for most people so scientists have been trying to recreate the same result without cutting the calories. A biology professor at MIT, Dr. Leonard Guarente, discovered a way whilst studying yeast cells in the mid 90s. He began to test which genes were responsible for extending the yeast cells’ lifespan when they underwent a calorie-restricted diet.
He found that when yeast cells were endowed with a certain gene, the yeast cells lived longer, and when that gene was eliminated, calorie restriction had no effect and the yeast cells died. That gene was silent information regulator no.2 or SIR2.
It appeared that the mechanism by which SIR2 extended lifespan was by inhibiting the production of waste material within a cell. Dr. Guarente was able to confirm his findings by testing it in another small organism, the roundworm. But what about humans?
As it turns out, humans don’t have a SIR2 gene, but we do have a gene that acts in the same way: SIRT1. They both seem to work by repairing DNA and suppressing certain genes. The latter, which is also called gene silencing, is important because if the wrong genes are activated then that could lead to cellular malfunction and cause diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
The method by which calorie restriction increases SIRT1 activity is via nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or NAD for short. NAD is found in every cell and is responsible for converting glucose into energy that our cells can use. What researchers also found was that NAD was able to activate the SIRT1 gene as well.
So in our quest to find that ‘magic pill’, scientists have been looking for ingredients that are able to act like NAD and activate our SIRT1 gene. Resveratrol is one such sirtuin that is found in the skin of red grapes. Ever heard of the French Paradox? The French and their fondness for red wine may be why they have a low incidence of coronary heart disease despite a diet high in saturated fat.
However, resveratrol has its downfalls. Mainly due to the fact that it’s easily oxidized, degraded by light and heat, and has a short half-life. That’s why a lot of the spotlight has turned to its cousin, pterostilbene, which is like a ‘better’ version of resveratrol because it’s also a sirtuin activator, but with better properties.