- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

The only thing that for me might beat this week’s big health news would be to find that coffee loaded with half-and-half prevents cancer.

But this is a close second: A substance found in red wine, resveratrol, might make us live longer. A lot longer. It worked on mice.

The report reminded me of the scene in the great Woody Allen movie (and weren’t they all) “Sleeper.” Woody Allen, a health food store owner, was cryogenically frozen after death and is finally awakened in the future. The doctors of the new era are talking about Mr. Allen’s life in the distant past, and discussing that once popular fad of health food, something they dismissively note that silly people of the 20th century were apparently “into” before discovering that things like eating red meat and smoking cigarettes was good for one’s health.

Anyway, finally what I consider some “good” health news. Something I like is, well, healthy. I feel doubly vindicated since I’ve often observed that I don’t know why anyone even bothers to produce white wine. Ha.

The research was conducted at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging, and first appeared, online, in the scientific journal Nature.

What I really appreciate is the delicious irony that the health effects of resveratrol are similar to those seen in deliberately calorie-restricted (CR) diets. For the uninitiated, CR, as the Wall Street Journal explains it, are diets that “cut normal calorie intake” by about one-third. People on these diets tend to be purposefully emaciated — but they may live a good bit longer than the rest of us. That’s because their metabolism slows down to next to nothing — they are sort of “preserved” in time or something. I bet they are constantly cold, too. Why would anyone want to live longer that way?

I’d much rather be cozy with a good glass of cabernet.

Anyway, here’s what the Journal said: “One of the most striking results was the dramatic edge in running endurance among mice on resveratrol compared with their undosed peers. The longer mice were on resveratrol, the perkier they got. After taking it for a year beginning in middle age… elderly mice had about twice the running endurance of undosed peers.”

As I approach middle age (naturally, I don’t plan on ever actually being middle-aged no matter how old I get) I know that “perkier” is good.

It actually turns out that resveratrol may be quite effective at mitigating the adverse health effects of obesity (though not the obesity itself). Seriously. Could it get better?

But here come the caveats. It’s hard to say if mice fed the huge doses of the drug, all of whom were obese, were living longer because resveratrol “slowed aging or only blocked diseases associated with rich diets.”

I’m totally betting on the former. And, in fact, a study of the effects of resveratrol on normal weight mice will be out next year. I’m standing by.

In the meantime, here’s the other major caveat: Red wine actually contains only miniscule amounts of the wonder drug. A person would have to drink some 300 glasses of red wine a day to get the same does of resveratrol given to the mice. So look for resveratrol supplements, already available, to grow in popularity. And how long before wine makers start increasing their resveratrol content, and touting the ingredient on labels?

That’s America.

Anyway, I for one am weary from health scares. This bug spray, that food, blah blah, give me break. We enjoy a time when people live far longer and healthier lives than ever before. Our ancestors worried about starvation, and not so long ago. Today the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S, after cigarettes, is too much food, or obesity.

I think sometimes we need to chill out, consider moderation in all things and just realize how great we have it. Or as biologists Matt Kaeberlein and Peter Rabinovitch, the authors of a commentary on the new study, put it in Nature when explaining that we don’t really know yet about all the effects of resveratrol: “We counsel patience. Just sit back and relax with a glass of red wine.”

Oh, and here’s another tidbit from a previous study: It turns out dark chocolate is full of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

You see? Life is good.

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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