Red Wine Molecule Helps Mice Live Longer
A compound found in red wine and grapes can extend the life-span of obese mice and help them enjoy a healthier old age, scientists said.
The molecule known as resveratrol not only enabled the mice to live longer than other overweight rodents, it also reduced the negative health effects of eating a high-calorie diet.
Resveratrol has been shown to have same effect in studies on yeast, flies and worms but the scientists said their research is the first to show it works in mammals.
"It is possible to find a molecule that activates the body's natural defenses against aging. You can use it to enhance the health of a mouse or mammal. That is unprecedented," said David Sinclair, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
He added that the study, reported in the journal Nature, is proof of the principle that it works in mammals. But the real test will be to develop formulations or find other molecules to treat age-related illnesses such as diabetes, Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer in humans.
"The goal here is within the next few years to know it is possible to treat diseases in man," he told Reuters.
Researchers already know that restricting calories can prolong life in mice and other organisms. Resveratrol seems to mimic the beneficial effects of eating less without the hassle of dieting.
Sinclair and an international team of scientists analysed the impact of molecule by studying three groups of middle-aged mice. One group ate a standard diet. The second was fed a high-calorie diet and the third had the same diet but were given supplements of resveratrol.
Eight weeks after starting the study, the scientists noticed a difference between the two high-calorie groups. By the time the mice were 114 weeks old, 58 percent in the high-calorie group had died, compared to 42 percent in the other groups.
"After six months, resveratrol essentially prevented most of the negative effects of the high-calorie diet in mice," said Rafael de Cabo, a co-author of the study from the National Institute on Aging in the United States.
The study is continuing but so far the compound has extended the life-span in the high-calorie mice by about 10-20 percent.
"There is no question that we are seeing increased longevity," said Sinclair.
In addition to increasing survival, the compound reduced the negative effects of being obese so the mice treated with resveratrol lived as long as the lean mice.
They had healthier heart and liver tissue, decreased blood sugar levels, better insulin sensitivity and were more active than the other rodents.
When the scientists looked at the genetic level, to see which genes in the mice were switched on or off, they found the molecule had changed the gene expression pattern of the obese mice toward that of a lean mouse.
The next step is to understand how the compound works.
Sinclair and his colleagues believe a key component could be the SIRT1 gene which is thought to be linked to life-span extension.
Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a therapeutics company co-founded by Sinclair, has started a trial of a proprietary formulation of resveratrol in patients with Type 2 diabetes.
"The real bang will be if somebody proves this is going to work in people," Sinclair added.
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