A compound in red wine may slow some of the ravages of aging, reducing bone loss, the formation of cataracts and balance problems, and improving liver and muscle function, new research suggests.

In tests on mice, resveratrol, which is found in red wine, grapes and nuts, was shown to increase longevity — but only before middle age, according to the study, published in Thursday's issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.

In fact, researchers at the U.S. National Institute on Aging, Harvard University and at other international institutions found that resveratrol prevented age-related and obesity-related cardiovascular functional decline, improved the functioning of the animals' aortas, significantly reduced total cholesterol levels, decreased heart inflammation and slightly lowered tryglyceride levels.

They tested the compound's effects on mice, feeding them a variety of different diets — both high calorie and low calorie — and testing the mice at various ages.

"Resveratrol has produced significant effects in animal models, now including mice, where it mimics some, but not all, consequences of caloric restriction," said Richard Rhodes, director of the National Institute on Aging. "Its effects in humans remain to be studied."

The study found:

  • Mice that consumed resveratrol on a daily basis had better bones, with increased thickness, volume, mineral content and density than mice fed a standard high-calorie diet.
  • At 30 months, mice that had resveratrol daily had fewer cataracts than mice fed the high-calorie diet.
  • Mice on resveratrol had better balance and co-ordination at 21 and 24 months than untreated mice.
  • Resveratrol had a similar effect to cutting calories in terms of improving liver and muscle function, and reducing fatty deposits in the body.
  • Mice fed a high-calorie diet but also given resveratrol lived longer than mice only consuming a high-calorie diet, suggesting the compound may improve longevity.