Red Wine a Weapon in Battle of the Bulge

An antioxidant found in red wine and grapes known as
resveratrol -- already thought to help keep the heart healthy and ward off cancer -- may also turn out to
be a fat fighter, according to new research.

In the laboratory, exposure to resveratrol prevented pre-fat cells, termed
pre-adipocytes, from increasing and from converting into mature fat cells,
according to Martin Wabitsch, MD, PhD, a researcher from the University of Ulm
in Ulm, Germany. Wabitsch presented the findings this week at ENDO 08, The
Endocrine Society's 90th annual meeting in San Francisco.

"We have to show it works in the same way in human beings," Wabitsch
tells WebMD.

The hope, he says, is to continue the research and, if it bears out, develop
drugs that will use the same mechanism as the
resveratrol in controlling the fat cells.

Health Benefits of Resveratrol: Study Details

In previous research, Wabitsch and his colleagues had found that the
resveratrol protected lab mice fed a high-calorie diet
from the health problems brought on by obesity by mimicking the effects of caloric

So the next step, they thought, was to see if the substance could mimic the
effects of caloric restriction in human fat cells by changing them.

"We used a human fat cell strain," Wabitsch says, a stable cell
strain that can be used over and over in the laboratory.

They exposed some fat cells to resveratrol and did not expose a comparison
group of fat cells to the antioxidant. "Forty hours is the normal doubling
time [of pre-fat cells]," Wabitsch says. "At 48 hours, the pre-fat
cells in the control dish had more than doubled. In the resveratrol dish, the
number of pre-fat cells had decreased by 40% to 45%," he tells WebMD.

The volume of fat cells exposed to the resveratrol was also less, he says,
in effect producing skinnier fat cells. Exposure to the resveratrol also
reduced the secretion of substances called interleukin 6 and 8, which may be
linked to the development of diabetes and clogged arteries, both thought to be
obesity-related problems.

Wabitsch says the finding is consistent with the theory that red wine's
resveratrol explains the so-called French paradox -- the observation that
French people, who eat a relatively high-fat diet but enjoy their red wine,
have a low death rate from heart
disease .

Health Benefits of Resveratrol: What's the Mechanism?

The resveratrol affects the fat cells in many ways, Wabitsch says.
"There's not just one mechanism."

"The reduction of the number of pre-fat cells works through SIRT1,"
says Wabitsch, referring to the activation of a gene associated with metabolism and aging.

When they "silenced" SIRT1 in animal studies, the resveratrol had no
effect on the proliferation of the pre-fat cells, he says.

The study was partly funded by the German Research Association and the
Ministry of Science, Research and Arts in Germany.

Health Benefits of Resveratrol: More Research Needed

The study is interesting, says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, an American Dietetic
Association spokeswoman. "But we need more studies," she says.

She says that not enough is known about caloric restriction. Caloric
restriction reduces body fat, which has multiple benefits, she says. But if it
is too severe it can also be accompanied by health problems, including
osteoporosis, she says.

Health Benefits of Resveratrol: The Future

When more is known about how resveratrol might inhibit fat, the hope is to
develop a drug that will mimic the resveratrol's action, Wabitsch says. The
pharmaceutical industry is already working on the concept, he says.

By Kathleen Doheny
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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