Page last updated at 06:58 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 07:58 UK

Study boosts wine chemical hopes

Red wine
There is evidence that wine can have beneficial effects

A chemical derived from red wine could one day help keep the heart "genetically young", claim researchers.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found that resveratrol appeared to halt age-related changes in the function of heart genes.

The effects, described in the PLOS One journal, appeared to mimic those produced by eating a very low calorie diet - known to prolong life.

But an expert said drinking wine would not achieve the effect.

In order to have any effect, you would have to drink literally gallons of wine, and that is not recommended
Dr Louise Connelly
Imperial College

Resveratrol, a plant polyphenol found in red wine, grapes and pomegranates, has been suggested as one of the reasons for the so-called "French paradox" - the relative longevity of the French despite a diet rich in artery-clogging animal fats.

It has been suggested that the traditional glass of red wine taken at mealtimes was helping beat heart disease.

The Wisconsin researchers the chemical on "middle-aged" mice, looking at the effects on the workings of genes in the heart.

The natural ageing process in animals and humans is marked by changes in the function, or expression, of thousands of genes in the organ, and even though the precise consequences of all these changes in gene expression is not fully understood, they are thought to contribute to its gradual overall weakening.

The mice on resveratrol appeared to have fewer changes in gene expression over time compared with those who did not.

The researchers suggested that this brought studies of the chemical closer to the "consumption reality" of middle-aged humans.

They also noticed similarities between the gene expression changes linked to resveratrol and those noticed in mice given low calorie diets, prompting speculation that the chemical may have a similar effect.

Many animals who undergo "calorific restriction" live longer, and Dr Tomas Prolla, one of the lead authors, suggested a similar process might be at work.

"There must be a few master biochemical pathways activated in response to caloric restriction, which in turn activate many other pathways - and resveratrol seems to activate some of those master pathways as well."

Hard to take

However, none of this may be good news for lovers of red wine.

Dr Louise Connelly, from Imperial College, who has looked at the effects of resveratrol on lung disease, said that the chemical did not stay in the body long enough to have any effects.

"The resveratrol molecule is very quickly removed from the bloodstream metabolised by the liver.

"In order to have any effect, you would have to drink literally gallons of wine, and that is not recommended."

She said that the only way for humans to experience its effects would be the development of a form of the chemical which overcame this problem.

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