WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A compound in red wine may ward off a variety of medical conditions related to aging, providing heart benefits, stronger bones and preventing eye cataracts, researchers said on Thursday.
The study, involving mice fed a diet supplemented with resveratrol starting in their equivalent of middle age, is the latest to raise hope that the compound or drugs based on it may improve the health of people.
Most of mice given resveratrol did not live longer than other mice but were far more healthy in several important measures, according to the study published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
“The good news is we can increase health. I think that’s more important than increasing life span,” David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School, who led the study along with Rafael de Cabo of the U.S. government’s National Institute on Aging, said in a telephone interview.
The mice in the study that were fed a high-calorie diet supplemented with resveratrol outlived those getting a high-calorie diet without the compound, the researchers said.
“Resveratrol wiped out the negative effect of the high fat,” de Cabo said in a telephone interview.
Resveratrol, found in abundance in grapes and in red wine, has drawn a lot of interest from scientists and some companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, which this year paid $720 million to buy Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc, a company developing drugs that mimic the effects of resveratrol.
Sirtris scientists were involved in the study. Sinclair helped found Sirtris and is co-chairman of its scientific advisory board.
In the study, some mice were fed a standard diet, some a high-calorie diet and some got food only every other day.
The researchers then began giving some of the mice resveratrol in either low or high doses when they were 12 months old, roughly the same as 35 years old in a person. The mice given resveratrol experienced broad health benefits compared to mice not given the compound, they said.
The mice given resveratrol tended to have less age-related or obesity-related cardiovascular functional decline. Their total cholesterol was reduced, their aortas functioned better and resveratrol seemed to moderate inflammation in the heart, the researchers said.
These mice also had better bone health than those not given the compound as determined by thickness, volume, mineral content and density, as well as reduced cataract formation in the eyes and better balance and motor coordination, the researchers said.
The genes of the mice given resveratrol were active in a way similar to mice on a very low-calorie diet previously shown to slow the aging process and extend life span in some animals.
The study was a follow-up to one published in 2006 showing resveratrol improved health and longevity of overweight mice.
De Cabo said while the new findings are promising, it would be premature for people to start taking resveratrol supplements to improve health, saying a potent compound like this might interact in uncertain ways with other drugs.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Beech