News | November 01, 2006

Can Red Wine Conquer Fat?

Drinking red wine may help defend against a fatty diet and help obese people live a longer, healthier life. A new study shows obese, middle-aged mice fed a fatty diet supplemented with resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, seemed to be spared most of the unhealthy effects of their extra weight and lived longer than those fed the same fat-laden diet without resveratrol.

"After six months, resveratrol essentially prevented most of the negative effects of the high calorie diet in mice," researcher Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging's Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology, Aging, Metabolism and Nutrition Unit, says in a news release.

Resveratrol is one of a group of antioxidant compounds called polyphenols found in grapes and red wine, as well as in other plants, such as peanuts and blueberries. It has been reported to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties and is being studied for a variety of pharmaceutical uses.

Red Wine Diet Defense

In the study, researchers compared the effects of feeding middle-aged mice three different diets for a year (the mouse equivalent of progressing to old age). One group was fed a standard diet; another a high-calorie diet with 60% of daily calories coming from fat; the third the same high-calorie diet supplemented with a large dose of resveratrol.

At the end of the study, 58 percent of the mice fed the high-calorie diet had died, compared with 42 percent of those fed the standard diet or the resveratrol-supplemented high-calorie diet.

On average, researchers found the resveratrol supplementation reduced the risk of death for the mice eating the high-calorie diet by 31%.

Longer and Better

Researchers found the mice fed the resveratrol diet not only lived longer, they also had a higher quality of life and performed better on tests of balance and coordination than the other fatty-diet mice.

Although the mice treated with resveratrol didn't lose weight, the study showed they appeared to be protected from some of the unhealthy effects of their obesity.

For example, the mice fed resveratrol experienced increased insulin sensitivity, decreased blood sugar levels, and healthier heart and liver tissues, which researchers say may stave off human age-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Don't Rush to the Wine Shop Yet

Although the notion of eating your cake and drinking wine too sounds appetizing, experts say more study is needed to determine if resveratrol has the same life-extending effects in humans as in this particular strain of laboratory mice.

"Many people will wonder whether they should start supplementing their diets with resveratrol. After all, it is generally regarded as safe, and can be purchased over the Internet with promises of improved health and longevity," write Matt Kaeberlein and Peter S. Rabinovitch of the University of Washington, Seattle, in a commentary accompanying the study in Nature.

But the researchers say the safety of resveratrol at the high doses used in this study is not known in humans.

"For now, we counsel patience. Just sit back and relax with a glass of red wine — which, alas, has only 0.3 percent of the relative resveratrol dose given to the gluttonous mice (note also that increasing the dose via wine will not be healthy).

"But if you must have a Big Mac, fries, and apple pie, we may soon know if you should supersize that resveratrol shake," they write.

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