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Posted: June 10, 2008

Is Red Wine Part of the Fountain of Youth? Experts Think So

Is red wine flowing from the Fountain of Youth? Scientists think a variation of this statement may be true after finding that red wine may help to curb the effects of aging. And not much wine, at that.

In what researchers described as the so-called "French paradox," they determined that as little as one glass a day can actually halt age-related changes in heart genes.

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The "paradox" is so named in recognition of the fact that people living in regions of France where food is soaked in saturated fat and wine consumption is high have surprisingly healthy hearts and arteries.

The research team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison said that while plant chemicals in red wine, which often accompanies French meals, have been suggested as a possible explanation of the paradox, their new study focused on one element -- resveratrol, a compound in the skin of red grapes which is known to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Previous research showed that reducing dietary calories by 20%-30% can extend lifespan and prevent genetic changes linked to aging in a range of animals. The new study, which looked at the effects on middle-aged mice, indicated that even low doses of resveratrol mimic the effects of calorie restriction to combat aging.

"This brings down the dose of resveratrol toward the consumption reality mode," said senior author Richard Weindruch, a UW-Madison professor of medicine and a researcher at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital. "At the same time, it plugs into the biology of caloric restriction."

A glass of red wine, or food supplements containing even small doses of resveratrol, were likely to represent a "robust intervention in the retardation of cardiac aging," Weindruch and colleagues emphasized in the online medical journal Public Library of Science One, or PLoS ONE.

A five-ounce glass of muscadine red wine can contain as much as six milligrams of resveratrol. Smaller amounts of resveratrol are also found in blueberries, bilberries, cranberries and peanuts.

"Resveratrol is active in much lower doses than previously thought and mimics a significant fraction of the profile of caloric restriction at the gene expression level," said Tomas Prolla, a UW-Madison professor of genetics and a senior author of the new report.

In conducting their study, the group explored the influence of resveratrol on heart, muscle and brain by looking for changes in gene expression in those tissues. As animals age, gene expression in the different tissues of the body changes as genes are switched on and off, thereby setting the individual pattern of aging.

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