A recent study by a team at UCLA suggests that moderate alcohol consumption can drastically lengthen one’s life-span while simultaneously reducing the effects of environmental stresses—so long as one is a member of the C elegans species of nematodes. The study, lead by Steven Clarke, UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry, found that nematodes routinely fed ethanol grew more robust than their straight-edge counterparts. “It was amazing to see how the worms given a little ethanol looked significantly more robust,” said Clarke.
Bu why does that happen? Researcher Shilpi Khare suggests that,
While the mechanism of action is still not clearly understood, our evidence indicates that these 1 millimeter–long roundworms could be utilizing ethanol directly as a precursor for biosynthesis of high-energy metabolic intermediates or indirectly as a signal to extend life span. These findings could potentially aid researchers in determining how human physiology is altered to induce cardio-protective and other beneficial effects in response to low alcohol consumption.
The findings are actually completely accidental. The team was originally studying the effects of cholesterol on the soft-bodied creatures and had been using the alcohol to clear cholesterol deposits from around the worms. Then they noticed that the nematode larvae that came in contact with the booze enjoyed a significantly longer lifespan—extending it from from 15 to 30 days. The corollary is that feeding the worms too much alcohol killed them faster than no booze at all. Researchers found that large quantities of ethanol caused severe neurological damage, almost always resulting in immediate death.
This species of nematode is often used as a model for human physiology as it actually shares roughly half of our genetic makeup. For this reason, the team is optimistic that this effect could eventually be reproduced in humans. The results were published yesterday in the journal PLoS One.