Monday, November 20, 2006

Better off red?

If researchers discover one more benefit of drinking red wine, it’ll be a matter of time before moms start serving merlot instead of milk, pharmacies replace their vitamins with a selection of zinfandels, and marathon water stops run red with Chianti. Less clear is how restaurants will exploit the advantage of being a longtime purveyor of what is truly beginning to sound like a health elixir.

For starters, perhaps they should crack open a top-notch Cab and invite some researchers over for a review of the favorable data that’s poured out of vino-focused labs in recent months. First, by altering the diet of tee-totaling mice, the white-coat set was able to determine that a red-wine ingredient called resveratrol can prolong life dramatically. We’re talking in the neighborhood of 30 percent.

Or at least it can stretch the life of a rodent; conclusive studies have yet to be conducted on humans. But the information was sufficient to spark a run on resveratrol, which was an unusual item for even health-food stores to stock. Now you can’t find it anywhere. But, undoubtedly, that will change as marketers cash in. It remains to be seen if restaurants will enjoy a similar surge in demand for their resveratrol reserves, which are typically meted out by the bottle.

Just a few days after the anti-aging qualities of resveratrol were revealed, medical journals were set abuzz again by a separate round of research. Those studies had found that the red-wine ingredient could counteract at least some ill effects of a high-fat diet, including obesity and diabetes. Here again, the research subjects were mice, but experts have already said the effects should be translatable to humans.

To recap: Resveratrol can make you live longer, and better. Two big reasons to drink red wine, from highly respected health officials.

Pardon me while I wipe away a tear. I wouldn’t want it falling in my pinot.

Unfortunately, scientists noted at the time that humans probably couldn’t drink enough red wine to absorb the amounts of resveratrol that are needed to combat obesity and aging. Clearly they never belonged to a fraternity.

But even if the required intake is prohibitive, that’s not going to dissuade consumers from ordering red more readily. Remember, this is a society that equates the descriptor “fresh” with “healthy,” even if it’s being applied to lard. A little knowledge sometimes works in the industry’s favor.

Then this weekend came news of yet another finding about resveratrol. When lab mice were given the compound and put on tiny treadmills, they could run twice as long, with the reduced heart rate and other signs of conditioning you’d expect in athlete rodents. Researchers concluded that the substance dramatically boosted endurance. And this time, the scientists didn’t rule out that salutary effects could come from relatively small doses of the compound.

A glass or two, maybe?

Of course, the research also didn’t speak to motivation. Who’d want to get on a treadmill to prove enhanced endurance when there’s more wine to drink? No pain, no pain—yet lots of gain.

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