Oh, to Be Fat and Healthy

A glass of red wine a day helps lower the risk of heart disease. Can it also counteract the effects of a high-fat diet, rich in T-bone steaks and coconut-cream pies? That's what everyone wanted to know after a new study, led by David Sinclair at Harvard, appeared last week in the online version of the journal Nature. The study found that concentrated doses of resveratrol, a compound in red wine, protected mice from the effects of obesity and extended their lives. The mice were fed a high-calorie diet, with 60 percent of calories coming from fat. Not surprisingly, they were overweight. But the mice didn't have high blood sugar, high insulin or fatty livers--the kinds of problems that accompany obesity and are common in diabetes.

Now for the reality check. No one has shown that equivalent doses of resveratrol are either safe or effective in people. Nor can you possibly get enough of the stuff from red wine. "You would have to drink over 1,000 glasses a day," says Sinclair. Resveratrol supplements are not the answer, either, as they're not well absorbed into the bloodstream.

But, paté lovers, don't despair. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals--cofounded by Sinclair--has developed an improved, synthetic version of resveratrol that is now in early trials for diabetes. Even more intriguing, the company has synthesized novel compounds that appear to work the same way as resveratrol--but with 1,000 times greater potency. It could take five years for any of them to reach the market. But one day, Sinclair says, they may help people extend the years of health they enjoy before the effects of aging set in. If he's right, that's not just pie in the sky.

Oh, to Be Fat and Healthy | News