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Life-extending compound may be great news -- for mice

By Elizabeth Cohen
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(CNN) -- Wouldn't this be fabulous: Drink loads of wine, eat whatever you want, get fat -- and then pop a pill and you'll actually live longer and have more endurance.

Scientists at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere are studying a compound called resveratrol found in grapes, wine and nuts. At high doses, it appears to prolong life spans and improve health in mice. Human trials are under way.

In one study, scientists provided mice a high-calorie, high-fat diet and then gave half of the animals resveratrol. At 114 weeks -- old age for mice -- less than a third of the mice taking resveratrol died. More than half of the mice who did not take resveratrol died. In another study, mice who took resveratrol lost weight, increased metabolism and doubled their exercise endurance.

This research, funded in part by the National Institute on Aging, was published in the journals Nature and Cell in November, and bottles of resveratrol have been flying off the shelves since. But will the compound really help people? (Take our quiz about the benefits of alcohol. )

"These studies are great news if you're a mouse," said Dr. Brent Bauer, director of the Department of Internal Medicine's Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic. "This may be the best thing since sliced bread for human beings, but we just don't know yet."

Bauer added that it's not known whether taking large doses of resveratrol could be harmful to people. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is studying a modified version of the naturally occurring resveratrol to see whether it could be even more potent.


Since studies were published on the anti-aging effects of resveratrol, bottles have been flying off the shelves.


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