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To Wine, Chocolate and Life

August 29, 2003

Bummed that you missed seeing Mars earlier this week when it was closer to Earth than it had been in recorded history? Don't worry. It'll be back in 284 years, and, if a new article in the respected journal Nature is anything to go by, medical researchers are getting closer to discovering the fountain of youth.

Modest red wine consumption already was linked to lower cholesterol and healthier hearts. Now, researchers at Harvard Medical School and a Pennsylvania laboratory have identified a chemical called resveratrol in red wines, particularly those grown in colder, wetter climates. It has the effect of pushing into overdrive the enzymes that slow aging. New York, Oregon and Washington state vintners are of course ecstatic. The long-term result, however, could be more boring: medications that let humans live longer.

Multiplying the sin-and-be-healthy effect, a German study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Assn. suggests that dark chocolate contains plant substances called polyphenols that can lower blood pressure.

Such positive dietary news offsets the bulletin from the Agriculture Department that, due almost entirely to pizza, cheese consumption among Americans has hit an artery-clogging high, going from six pounds a year in 1944 to 30 pounds a year today. Not all that surprising given the popularity of "competitive eating," with grown men and women sticking their faces in pies and other delicacies.

Whether any of the sensational research reports will translate into substantive medical advances is uncertain. A balanced diet and exercise remain proven health promoters. But you can stick a small chocolate bar in your sweatpants pocket now, and pour a glass of red later.

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