- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006


Huge amounts of a red wine extract seemed to help obese mice eat a high-fat diet and still live a long and healthy life, suggests a new study that some specialists are calling “landmark” research.

The big question is, can it work the same magic in humans?

Scientists say it’s far too early to start swilling barrels of red wine. But some are calling the latest research promising and even “spectacular.”

The study by the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Aging shows that heavy doses of red wine extract lowers the rate of diabetes, liver problems and other fat-related ill effects in obese mice.

Fat-related deaths dropped 31 percent for obese mice on the supplement, compared with untreated obese mice, and the treated mice also lived long after they should have, the study said.

Astoundingly, the organs of the fat mice that got the wine extract looked normal when they shouldn’t have, said study lead author Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School. He said other preliminary work still being done in the lab shows the wine ingredient has promise in lengthening the life span of normal-sized mice, too.

Dr. Sinclair has a financial stake in the research. He is co-founder of a pharmaceutical firm, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., which is testing the safety of using the extract on humans for treatment of diabetes.

For years, red wine has been linked to numerous health benefits. But the new study, published online in the journal Nature today, shows that mammals given ultrahigh doses of the red wine extract resveratrol can get the good effects of cutting calories without having the pain of actually doing it.

“If we’re right about this, it would mean you could have the benefit of restricting calories without having to feel hungry,” Dr. Sinclair said. “It’s the Holy Grail of aging research.”

Resveratrol, produced when plants are under stress, are found in the skin of grapes.

The 55 resveratrol-treated obese mice on a high-calorie diet (one scientist called it a “McDonald’s diet”) are not only about as healthy as normal mice, they are as agile and active on exercise equipment as their lean cousins, showing what can be considered a normal quality of life, higher than usual for obese mice, said study co-author Rafael de Cabo of the National Institute on Aging.

“These fat old mice can perform as well on this skill test as young lean mice,” Dr. Sinclair said.

The only major body measurement that didn’t improve — aside from weight — was cholesterol and that didn’t seem to matter in the overall health of the mice, Dr. Sinclair said.

The study is so promising that the institute on aging this week is strongly considering a repeat of the same experiment with rhesus monkeys, coming the closest to humans, after successful resveratrol experiments on yeast, worms, fruit flies and now mice, said institute director Dr. Richard Hodes.

Dr. Hodes cautions that it’s too early for people to start taking non-regulated resveratrol supplements because safety issues haven’t been addressed adequately.

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