By Alan Mozes
THURSDAY, July 3 (HealthDay News) -- A key compound in red wine known as resveratrol appears to protect against many of the health ravages associated with growing old, new animal research reveals.
"It's very hard to extrapolate from this finding to comment on the benefits of red wine directly, because red wine has many other compounds besides resveratrol, including ethanol, which have very active biological effects," noted study author Rafael de Cabo, unit chief of the laboratory of experimental gerontology at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore.
"But red wine is a good source of resveratrol," he added. "And, in this mouse study, we have shown that this particular compound has very strong positive effects on preventing cardiovascular disease, reducing heart inflammation, keeping bone health in terms of structure and function, and maintaining loco-motor and balance activity. So, if these effects translate into humans, it will have a very good impact on the standard of human health."
De Cabo conducted the research with David A. Sinclair, of Harvard Medical School. Their team is publishing its findings in the July 3 online issue of Cell Metabolism.
Although daily consumption of the compound -- also found in the skin of grapes and the crust of peanuts and walnuts -- broadly improved the long-term quality of life of middle-aged mice, although most mice did not end up living longer.
Nevertheless, the age-defying health benefits of resveratrol closely mimicked those previously associated with rigorous calorie-restricted diets -- raising hopes for simpler and easier means by which to help fight off age-related decline.
The authors noted that prior research has touted the healthy benefits associated with daily caloric restriction of between 30 percent and 50 percent below average, as well as with fasting every other day. Such diets have been linked to a reduction in the risk for age-associated disease and stress, alongside a slowing of age-related functional decline.
"But we can't have half of America going permanently on a diet," said de Cabo. "We just can't do it. It's not practical, and it's not going to happen."
Alternatively, he and his colleagues began to explore the potential of resveratrol -- a compound that has already been shown to extend the lives of yeast, worms, flies and fish.
In initial studies, the team found that consuming the compound did improve the health and survival of obese mice -- despite consuming a high-calorie diet.
To follow up, the researchers now compared the health and life spans of middle-age mice given either a standard diet or a calorie-restricted diet, with or without high or low daily dosages of resveratrol.
De Cabo and his colleagues found that resveratrol had the same positive impact on mouse livers, muscles, hearts and bones as calorie restriction alone.
Regardless of dietary protocol, the general health and vigor of mice on a long-term regimen (approximately one year) of resveratrol improved overall, without apparent side effects. However, only mice consuming resveratrol alongside a high-calorie diet were found to actually live longer.
"This certainly is consistent with previous studies," noted Dr. Edward A. Fisher, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and cell biology at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City. "So, I'm not surprised by the finding."
"But by looking at specific outcomes in specific tissues, this work is certainly more detailed and rigorous," he added. "And it further supports the hypothesis that this compound staves off the effects of aging."
On another food front, researchers out of Athens Medical School in Greece have published a new study in the current issue of the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation suggesting that drinking green tea is good for the heart.
Consuming green tea, the authors noted, appeared to quickly improve the function of cells that line the circulatory system, known as endothelial cells. Because endothelial cell damage is a key contributor to the onset of atherosclerosis, boosting the performance of such cells could help stave off heart disease.