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Fat and happy

Resveratrol shows promise in staving off obesity-related disease, but there's still at least one big problem.

November 25, 2006

THE NAME needs jazzing up -- try making a jingle out of "resveratrol" -- but we foresee huge advertising campaigns built around the miracle substance derived from the skins of grapes. This could be the chemical for 21st century America, the mechanism by which couch potatoes can have their transfats and eat them too.

Maybe that's a tad optimistic. What the latest research has found is that fat mice that guzzle red wine -- or at least the resveratrol found in it -- can stuff themselves silly with the rodent equivalent of KFC extra-crispy and live longer and healthier than fat mice that don't. They showed no harbingers of such obesity-related ailments as diabetes, heart disease or liver dysfunction. In fact, they were as lively, agile and long-lived as mice that were fed a sort of Whole Foods diet. Floyd Landis, take note: The pipsqueaks also showed increased muscle endurance and athletic performance.

The only problem: They were still fat mice.

Something to keep in mind when you're deciding between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to go with your leftovers this weekend. One goes better with white meat; the other will save you, just a little bit, from two helpings of pecan pie. Of course, humans would have to quaff about 20 bottles of red wine a day to get large enough doses of the chemical, which sounds extreme even for the French, whose pate and Cabernet-laden diets led to this research in the first place. Luckily, resveratrol can be isolated. It's already sold as a food supplement -- less fun, but safer for driving -- though scientists are advising against using it until they know more about its safety and effectiveness in humans. A fully accepted, marketable product is years away.

But not too many years. The day can't be too far off when the fuzzy voice at the drive-through window asks if you'd like to super-size that mega-burger with some \o7res\f7 crumbled on top, or sprinkled into your curly fries. Making gluttony punishable only by having to shop in the large-and-tall department is a medical dream worth chasing.

But the part that tends to be forgotten is that the fat mice chowing down resveratrol did not live any longer than a control group of slender mice that ate a properly balanced diet. In other words, the simple, old-fashioned method of eating right is still a proven way to stay healthy and live longer. Plus, it's easier to fit into peg-leg jeans.

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