Nov 1, 2006
Are you middle aged and eating too much? Are you worried about ill health and getting old? Do you have whiskers and prefer wood shavings to down for your bedding?
Researchers at Harvard University may have the answer to a healthier and longer life for you.
David Sinclair and his colleagues have studied middle-aged mice fed on a high-calorie diet and found that a compound extracted from red wine not only improved the health of the mice but also extends the animals’ lifespan. The results appear online today in the journal Nature.
The researchers supplemented a high-calorie diet with resveratrol, a small molecule that has been shown to extend the lifespan of other animals. The treatment shifted the animals’ physiology towards that of mice fed a standard diet. The mice lived longer than other mice on the same high-fat diet that didn’t get the resveratrol supplemement, and even though they didn’t lose any weight, their quality of life was also improved – resveratrol-treated mice had healthier livers and better motor coordination.
Resveratrol seems to counter various of the health risks associated with a high-fat diet, but without skimping on the calories. It could provide a solution to the French paradox in which the stereotypically high-fat diet favoured by the French is counteracted in terms of health by the consumption of red wine.
“Mice are much closer evolutionarily to humans than any previous model organism treated by this molecule, which offers hope that similar impacts might be seen in humans without negative side- effects,” says Sinclair.
The impact on health and lifespan the researchers observed in the obese mice treated with resveratrol, included increased insulin sensitivity, decreased glucose levels, and a healthier heart and liver. These are all positive clinical indicators and, says Sinclair, may mean we can stave off age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in humans. He adds that only time and more research will tell. Just for the record Sinclair is a co-founder of Sirtris, a spin out company part owned by Harvard. The company is currently phase 1b trialling a proprietary formulation of resveratrol in people with diabetes.
When scaled up from the obese mouse model, the doses used in the mouse study should be feasible for human consumption, hence the phase 1b trial, but it’s not yet clear whether the molecule will yield similar effects in people, say the researchers. If it does, it may lead to the development of drugs that can reduce some of the negative consequences of excess calorie intake and improve health and survival.
Alternatively, it may provide those of us in middle age who like our food with an excuse to wash it all down with a classic Chianti, hang the expense, and live longer, healthier lives regardless.
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