Alcohol Increases Lifespan in Worms

Ethanol consumption doubles life expectancy and leaves implications to human health

(RxWiki News) The lifespan of certain worms can effectively be doubled by giving it a very small dose of alcohol. While the reason is unknown the study begs the question: what does this mean for humans?

The worm, Caenorhabditis elegans is found all over the world and is commonly used as a model for aging studies because it shares 50% of its genes with humans.

The study raises the question of whether small amounts of alcohol can be beneficial to human health.

"Speak to your doctor before modifying your drinking habits."

Dr. Steven G. Clarke, Ph.D., chemistry and biochemistry professor at UCLA, is stunned by the results of the study. The findings are an accidental discovery from testing the effects of cholesterol on the worms. The ethanol was originally used as a solvent for the cholesterol.

According to Clarke, “the solvent was having the longevity effect. The cholesterol did nothing. We found that not only does ethanol work at a 1-to-1,000 dilution, it works at a 1-to-20,000 dilution. That tiny bit shouldn't have made any difference, but it turns out it can be so beneficial."

Under normal conditions the worms live about 15 days. However, with a tiny bit of ethanol they live 20 to 40 days. This extremely small amount of ethanol is the maximum that is beneficial to the worms.

When the research team increased the level of ethanol the worms did not have increased life expectancy.

The reason for the phenomenon is still unknown but follow up research will attempt to identify the gene that extends the life of the worm. According to Clarke, about half of the worm’s genes are shared with humans, so this research could help understand human aging.

Study co-author Shilpi Khare, a former Ph.D. student in biochemistry at UCLA, notes that “current research shows that low to moderate alcohol consumption, equivalent to one or two glasses of wine or beer a day, results in a reduction in cardiovascular disease and increased longevity. While these benefits are fascinating, our understanding of the underlying biochemistry involved in these processes remains in its infancy.”

The study was published in the online journal PLoS ONE in the Jan. 18th edition and federally funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences. 

Review Date: 
January 24, 2012