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The 'French Paradox,' Explained

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered that a compound in the skin of red grapes curbs the effects of aging in middle-aged mice, even when taken in tiny doses. Scientists believe the discovery might help to explain the so-called "French paradox" the phenomenon that sees French people live longer than most despite eating a diet rich in saturated fats. It has long been thought that the traditional red wine that goes with French meals somehow helps stave off heart disease.

The new study highlights the importance of the chemical resveratrol, which has been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. In the experiments with mice, low doses of resveratrol were seen to mimic the effects of calorie restriction to combat aging. Previous studies have shown that descreasing dietary calories by 20 to 30 percent can extend lifespan and prevent the genetic changes caused by aging in a wide range of animals.

Professor Tomas Prolla, senior author of the research published in the online journal PLoS ONE, said : "There must be a few master biochemical pathways activated in response to caloric restriction, which in turn activate many other pathways -- and resveratrol seems to activate some of those master pathways as well."

Now for the bad news: Drinking more wine won't necessarily help you live longer, because the resveratrol molecule is very quickly metabolized by the liver and removed from the bloodstream. But scientists are exploring ways to administer larger doses of resveratrol to act as a dietary compound.