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Published: Tuesday, 11/14/2006

Mickey will have the merlot

IF CHUBBY mice consuming huge doses of red wine extract hold the key to the fountain of life, does that mean happy days are here again for the feline population? Will cats join their human owners in toasting the age-related development with a relaxing glass of merlot?

But seriously folks, a new study by the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging could mark a scientific turning point in arresting the human aging process. The startling research has scientists and pharmaceutical companies scurrying to learn more about the fat but fit mice benefitting from the fruit of the vine.

The health benefits of red wine were established a decade ago. An ingredient in the wine called resveratrol has produced promising results counteracting the effects of cardiovascular illnesses.

Previous tests on worms and fruit flies showed that the tiny molecule had increased their life spans by 30 percent and 60 percent respectively. But the Harvard study was the first to show the survival benefits of the natural antibiotic in a mammal.

"Mice are much closer evolutionarily to humans than any previous model organism treated by this molecule," said the study's lead author, Dr. David Sinclair. He hopes that means similar impacts might someday be seen in humans without negative side-effects.

"If we're right about this," he said, "it would mean you could have the benefit of restricting calories without having to feel hungry. It's the Holy Grail of aging research."

Even though it could take years before the red wine ingredient is perfected in a high-dose form safe for humans, the obese mice may be on to something. They demonstrated how resveratrol in heavy doses can reduce the rate of diabetes, liver problems, and other diseases linked to high-calorie diets.

The resveratrol-treated mice also lived longer than fat mice who received no treatment and, strikingly, the organs of the treated mice were about as healthy as normal mice. Plus, noted one of the researchers, the fat mice on resveratrol were also as "agile and active on exercise equipment as their lean cousins."

"It's a fairly spectacular result," said University of Wisconsin medical professor Dr. Richard Weindruch, who also studies the genetics of aging and drugs that could expand life spans.

Even scientists excited by the health benefits observed in the latest study caution there is no red wine cure-all yet - and may never be. While the findings about the wine extract are intriguing, said the author, they shouldn't be an excuse to overeat.

But at least one landmark study shows mice on huge doses of resveratrol - roughly equal to 100 bottles of wine a day in humans - can be "fat, happy, healthy, and vigorous." And seriously drunk?



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