L’Chaim: Wine compound lengthens mouse lives

A chemical famous as a constituent of red wine appears to increase the life spans and boost the well-being of mice that haven’t followed the healthiest of lifestyles, according to new research. The finding marks the first time that the compound, known as resveratrol, has shown life-lengthening benefits in a mammal.

In 2003, David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School in Boston and his colleagues reported that yeast dosed with resveratrol lived 60 percent longer than yeast that didn’t receive the compound. Since then, his team and other researchers have discovered that this molecule can increase life span to varying extents in other organisms, including worms, flies, and fish.

Some studies have suggested that resveratrol works by activating the same genes that are turned on when an animal eats a severely limited number of calories, a method that’s been shown to lengthen the lives of several types of organisms, including mammals.

To see whether feeding resveratrol to mammals would extend their lives, Sinclair and his colleagues provided daily doses of the compound to middle-aged mice being fed an extremely unhealthy diet. Fat contributed a whopping 60 percent of the calories in their chow. The researchers compared these animals with other middle-aged mice that received no resveratrol while eating either the high fat diet or a standard diet of healthy mouse chow.

The mice on the standard diet remained slim, and both groups on the high-fat diet quickly packed on the grams. However, while high fat–diet rodents not fed resveratrol soon died from obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, obese mice in the resveratrol-fed group remained as healthy as those on the standard diet.

Some mice are still living, so the researchers haven’t yet calculated how much the compound extended life span. However, Sinclair notes, the team estimates about a 15 percent boost in life span, bringing the resveratrol-supplemented animals’ lives in line with those of animals on the healthy diet.

As animals in each group died, pathologists examined their hearts and livers. The organs from the mice that had received resveratrol looked healthier than those of the other groups, the researchers say. Moreover, while the obese animals that weren’t fed resveratrol quickly lost motor skills as they aged, those fed the supplement continued to perform just as well as the slim mice did.

“The mice fed resveratrol have not been just living longer. They are also living more active, better lives,” says Sinclair. He and his team report the results online and in the Nov. 16 Nature.

Another researcher of aging, Peter Rabinovitch of the University of Washington in Seattle, notes that adjusted for the size differences, the amount of resveratrol fed to these mice far surpasses what a person would get from imbibing red wine. “It’s something like 300 glasses of red wine a day, which is beyond life threatening,” he says.

However, researchers may eventually develop a drug that works even better than the natural molecule, he says, so a pill could confer life- and health-extending benefits.

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