Wine healthy

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Red wine's anti-ageing ingredient does it again

IF RED wine holds the key to a longer life, fish are the latest creatures that can drink to it. Those fed resveratrol, a component of red wine already known to prolong the life of yeast, flies and nematode worms, can live up to 60 per cent longer than usual. And if resveratrol works in fish, there is a fair chance that it will prolong the lives of other vertebrates, including humans.

Alessandro Cellerino of the Italian Institute of Neuroscience in Pisa gave three different doses of resveratrol to Nothobranchius furzeri, a fish native to Zimbabwe that lives for an average of 9 weeks. The lowest dose had no effect, but fish on the medium dose lived a third longer, and those on the highest dose lived 60 per cent longer. At 12 weeks, by which time all untreated fish were dead, the fish on the highest dose were still fertile and had the physical and mental agility of a young fish (Current Biology, vol 16, p 296).

Resveratrol also appeared to protect the fish's brain cells against age-related degeneration, suggesting that it could potentially help the elderly stay alert.

"As far as I'm aware, this is the first major demonstration that you can extend lifespan in a vertebrate with a single molecule," says David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School, who in 2003 extended the survival of yeast cells by exposing them to the compound.

Previous studies suggest that resveratrol might slow ageing by preventing chemical damage to DNA in mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of cells. Alternatively, it could stabilise DNA by activating a gene called SIRT1, and so prevent cells and tissues from being sapped of energy and deteriorating to produce the symptoms of old age.

Several companies are now developing resveratrol supplements, but in the meantime the substance can be found in grapes, grape juice and red wine. "It wouldn't hurt to drink one or two glasses of wine a day," says Cellerino.

However, other researchers cautioned against using his results as an excuse to overindulge. Paul Kroon of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, UK, calculated that the highest dose of resveratrol given to the fish equated to a person drinking 72 bottles of red wine per day. And the compound's effects in humans might be further diluted because around 95 per cent of resveratrol is destroyed by our digestive systems before it makes it into the blood.

From issue 2538 of New Scientist magazine, 11 February 2006, page 14