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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 27, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Corks are undoubtedly popping off merlot bottles a lot faster this week in the wake of a report from Harvard Medical School researchers that found a molecule in red wine extends life spans.
Lead researcher David Sinclair and his colleagues reported Sunday in the early online edition of Nature that a class of chemicals that includes resveratrol -- a molecule that's an active ingredient in red wine -- extended life by 70 percent in yeast, worms, and fruit flies.
So dramatic are the life-extension benefits, says Sinclair, that they mimic the life-extending effects of calorie restriction, which most would view as a lot less palatable than drinking red wine.
Molecules such as resveratrol regulate other proteins, which interfere with the natural process of cell death, the researchers say.
While the news is heralded as exciting and fascinating, other researchers caution that it's a little too soon to depend on vino to get you to your century birthday bash.
"It's too early to say whether this will relate to anything to do with human health," says Dr. Arthur Klatsky, senior consultant in cardiology at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., and a pioneer in studying the effects of alcoholic beverages on cardiac health in humans.
As for the immediate effects of the research, he quips, "It certainly will spur the sales of red wine."
While red wine is the best source of the molecule, it's also found in peanuts and grape juice.
The finding, adds Klatsky, "does look like it has some scientific basis."
Sinclair's team is continuing the research and hopes to test the molecule's life-extending properties on rodents and, eventually, humans.
In Klatsky's research on alcoholic beverage intake and cardiac health, he has found that each beverage type -- wine, beer, and spirits -- helps to prevent a heart attack. "For heart attack prevention, beer has more benefit than spirits, and wine has more benefits than beer," he says.
In his research, Klatsky has also found that women who drank white wine seem to reap the most benefit. But he also thinks that many of the health benefits, especially of white wine drinkers, have more to do with the traits of the drinker than the wine alone. He says white wine drinkers are more likely to exercise, pay attention to eating a good diet, and practice other sound health habits.
While Klatsky calls Sinclair's research fascinating, he says it's not a call for someone who prefers beer or spirits to switch to red wine -- especially if they don't like the taste.
Ruth Kava, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health, agrees, calling the research "very preliminary."
"Going from worms, yeast, and mice to whole human beings is a big step," she cautions. It's too early, she adds, to advise drinking a glass of red wine just for the sake of longevity.
Sinclair, an assistant professor in Harvard's Department of Pathology, emphasizes that he is not a doctor. But his advice for boosting longevity -- besides waiting for further research results -- would be: "Don't smoke, walk or run at least once a week, keep your cholesterol down, and drink an occasional glass of red wine."
Before you shop, you might want to know that resveratrol is most plentiful in wines from grapes that had harsh growing conditions. That means pick Chilean or Australian red wines and pass up the California varieties, advises Sinclair.
For information on alcohol and aging, visit the National Institute on Aging. For definitions of moderate drinking, check with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.