Debate Focuses on Dietary Supplement Longevinex

LAS VEGAS -- The debate rages on over the health value of a dietary supplement made by a Las Vegas company that seeks to gives consumers the benefits of red wine extracts without the alcohol, calories or headaches associated with wine.

Resveratrol Partners unveiled the supplement Longevinex to the public in January 2004, reminding consumers of scientific studies that linked red wine molecules to healthy aging. Resveratrol happens to be the name for a type of red wine extract that is also found in giant knotweed, a plant that is used in the supplement.

The company, which sells Longevinex online, claimed to be first to successfully preserve those molecules in dietary supplement form, as contained in liquid capsules. Resveratrol, which eventually moved to the valley from San Dimas, Calif., uses patented manufacturing methods under a licensing agreement from Capsugel, a division of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

In June 2004 Resveratrol reported that independent testing by Biomol International, a Pennsylvania laboratory, found that Longevinex had six times greater biological effect than the next best of 13 other dietary supplements that contained resveratrol. The following month the New York Sun quoted Paul McGlothin, a New York advertising executive, as saying that Longevinex helped slow his rate of cell death and gave him the blood pressure of a 10-year-old. He suggested that people who took Longevinex might be able to extend their lives even if they were unwilling to diet.

Then, in the summer of 2006, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging reported that high doses of resveratrol enabled mice on high-calorie diets to live longer.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y., as saying in November 2006: "The significance of the study on a scale of 10 is 11 in the aging and longevity field." But he also said the study didn't prove that resveratrol slows aging, because it wasn't proven whether the mice lived longer because resveratrol slowed aging or merely blocked diseases associated with rich diets.

The New York Times also wrote about the resveratrol tests, noting that the Food and Drug Administration will only approve drugs that treat diseases in measurable ways. The FDA, the Times wrote, doesn't consider aging to be a disease. The implication being that this is why the FDA hasn't gotten involved in Longevinex. The Times also reported on a study in France that found that mice fed resveratrol exhibited increased endurance. But in the same article, Resveratrol Partners founder and president Bill Sardi said consumers would have to take almost impossible quantities of Longevinex to attain doses of resveratrol equivalent to those used in the mice.

By the end of 2006, Sardi had reported a sharp increase in Longevinex sales, attributing this to the studies involving the mice. He also told the Boston Globe in July 2007 that while he believed Longevinex was safe, people should not take the capsules with medication because it could result in higher levels of certain medications in the bloodstream.

The publication Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week reported that in late 2007 Appalachian State University's Steven McAnulty, a professor in the Health, Leisure and Exercise Science department at the North Carolina school, conducted the first successful human study of Longevinex. He concluded that the dietary supplement was superior to green tea in significantly reducing inflammation among endurance athletes at modest doses.

It was reported in May 2008 that a study by researchers at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital and LifeGen Technologies in Madison, Wis., that a moderate dose of resveratrol in humans would be enough to mimic a calorie-restricted diet. But the researchers warned that high doses could produce side effects.

Sardi said at the time that those side effects could include anemia, Achilles heel tendonitis, anxiety reactions and finger numbness. "Resveratrol is relatively safe, but not absolutely safe at any dosage," he said. "There are drawbacks."

The first report that Longevinex could improve eyesight occurred in June 2008, when Dr. Stuart Richer, then chief of the optometry section at the North Chicago Veterans Medical Center, addressed an annual American Academy of Optometry meeting in Seattle. Having prescribed Longevinex to an 80-year-old man, Richer said that the supplement improved the patient's night vision. Richer explained that after five months of taking the supplement, the patient's visual acuity, color and side vision also improved, as did his mental capacity.

Longevinex, which announced Richer's findings in a press release, stated that "the accumulation of cellular debris in the retina is believed to be the first sign of age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that robs senior adults of their central vision used for reading or driving, for which there is no cure." The Longevinex supposedly removed excess minerals such as calcium, iron and copper that build up in retinal tissue over time. Richer said this may have represented the first time that an intervention reversed aging changes in the retina. The release also stated that two-thirds of the nation's senior citizens exhibit signs of retinal disease and 9 percent of those will lose some central vision.

Earlier this year, on May 7, the Los Angeles Times reported that Richer, now affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago and the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, found that 16 of 17 patients with age-related macular degeneration showed improvements after taking Longevinex. One case involved an 88-year-old woman who other specialists thought was beyond help but who was able to regain the ability to see faces, read a menu and her own handwriting after only four days on Longevinex. A 75-year-old man with failing vision purportedly was able to renew his driver's license after taking just seven Longevinex capsules, the newspaper reported.

Sardi also reported on the website in March 2011 on the progress involving then 77-year-old Joyce Brown of Mesquite. Brown, a naturopathic doctor who wrote a book about her lifelong health challenges, said that her vision began to deteriorate in April 2009. She received 27 painful eye injections of medicine that initially restored her sight but eventually lost their effectiveness. Treatment in Mexico also didn't work for her.

Instead, she tried Longevinex while staying at a San Diego hotel. She began taking the supplement on Jan. 5, 2011, one capsule per day. She said that when she awoke from a nap on Jan. 10, 2011, she found that her vision had been restored. She was able to thread a needle on Jan. 15, 2011, and was also able to see people's faces and lip read. A red spot in one of her eyes disappeared, and she was able to pass a driver's license renewal exam.

The makers of Longevinex also reported that a mouse study it conducted for publication in the September 2008 issue of Experimental Gerontology found that Longevinex activated nine times as many longevity genes in heart tissue than plain resveratrol. Sardi said the difference was that Longevinex also contains antioxidant molecules.

Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week reported in June 2009 that Longevinex Advantage hit the market, designed for adults who want to live longer and look younger.

In August 2009, the New York Times warned consumers about the flood of dietary supplements that began appearing on the market after "60 Minutes" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" did segments on resveratrol. Websites promoting many of these products began making unproven health claims, upsetting Sardi, who told the Times that Longevinex couldn't compete with companies making "outlandish claims," offering free trials and using bloggers to optimize their placement in Google's search engine.

The Times also reported that the FDA doesn't require dietary supplements to pass the same quality, safety and effectiveness reviews as prescription or over-the-counter drugs but supplement makers cannot make false claims about their products. The newspaper reported that the FDA sent warning letters to two resveratrol companies that were making false claims, including that their supplements would cure cancer.

In October 2009 Resveratrol Partners announced yet another study, this one from the testing laboratory Nutriscreen of Covina, Calif., which found that Longevinex activated sluggish white blood cells in nine of 10 human subjects within 30 minutes of consumption. This was viewed as critical to the ability of white blood cells to respond to infections.

But The Day, a publication in New London, Conn., wrote in February 2010 about a study from Pfizer scientists who questioned resveratrol's ability to slow the aging process. New Scientist magazine declared that the study dealt a blow to those who believe a pill could slow old age. And Nature magazine said the study deepened the rift between resveratrol believers and those who doubt its potential benefits.

About the same time,. Resveratrol Partners began reporting on a University of Connecticut study that found that Longevinex improved cardiovascular health in rats. The company even suggested that resveratrol might be more reliable at preventing heart attacks than aspirin.

But last January, Reuters reported that researcher Dipak Das, director of the university's Cardiovascular Research Center, had been accused by the university of fabricating or falsifying data more than 100 times. Philip Austin, the university's interim vice president for health affairs, was quoted as saying: "We have a responsibility to correct the scientific record and inform peer researchers across the country."

The New York Times also reported that the university was returning $890,000 in grants from the federal government that were awarded to Das.

The revelations caught the maker of Longevinex off guard, especially since Das had become such a big supporter of resveratrol and the company had touted his research. Sardi, in response, said in a press release that criticism of Das' work primarily involved irregularities in a test called the western blot analysis. Sardi said the criticism "would not alter the findings that Longevinex has been proven to reduce the area of scar tissue following a heart attack in excised rodent hearts."

"None of the allegations that I have briefly read in newspapers negate the pioneering work of Dr. Das, who first showed that resveratrol can turn a mortal heart attack in animals into a non-mortal event," Sardi said.




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