A compound present in red wine and dark chocolate could help slow down the degenerative effects of ageing, scientists suggest.

Researchers say they have found a way to make “inactive senescent” cells look and behave like younger cells by using reversatrol analogues – a chemical found in wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries.

When applied to cells cultured in the lab, a class of genes known as splicing factors – which progressively stop working as we age – were switched back on.

Scientists observed that within hours, the older cells started to divide and had longer telomeres – tips of chromosomes (genetic material of an organism) which shorten as people age – showing signs of rejuvenation.

Dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate contains a chemical known as reversatrol analogues which scientists believe has cell rejuvenating properties (Tihomir_todorov/Getty Images)

Study author Dr Eva Latorre, research associate at the University of Exeter, said: “When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn’t believe it. These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic.

“I repeated the experiments several times and in each case the cells rejuvenated. I am very excited by the implications and potential for this research.”

As people get older they accumulate senescent cells which are alive but do not grow or function as they should and lose the ability to correctly regulate the output of certain genes – like the splicing factors.

The splicing factors play a key role in ensuring other genes can perform their full range of functions – such as making the decision whether or not to grow new blood vessels.

Ageing
Scientists believe their findings could lead to treatments that could help people age better (Yui Mok/PA)

The splicing factors tend to work less efficiently as people age, restricting the ability of cells to respond – which can lead to age-related diseases such as stroke and heart problems.

The researchers believe their findings have the potential to lead to therapies which could help people age better, without experiencing some of the age-related degenerative effects.

Study leader professor Lorna Harries, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Exeter, said: “This is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans, but with health for their entire life.

“Our data suggests that using chemicals to switch back on the major class of genes that are switched off as we age might provide a means to restore function to old cells.”

The findings are published in BMC Cell Biology.