RED wine may be the next best thing to the fabled elixir of youth, new research suggests.
A compound in the skin of red grapes has been found to curb the effects of ageing, even when taken in tiny doses.
Scientists believe the discovery, made in mice, may explain the so-called "French paradox".
Experts have long wondered why people in regions of France where food is rich in saturated fat have astonishingly healthy hearts and arteries.
Plant chemicals in red wine, which often accompanies French meals, have been suggested as an explanation.
The new study highlights one compound, resveratrol, which is known to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
Experiments with mice indicated that low doses of resveratrol mimic the effects of calorie restriction to combat ageing.
Previous research has shown that reducing dietary calories by 20-30 per cent can extend lifespan and prevent genetic changes linked to ageing in a range of animals.
Resveratrol appears to influence the same biological pathway, say the scientists.
Professor Tomas Prolla, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, senior author of the research published today in the online journal PLoS ONE, said: "Resveratrol is active in much lower doses than previously thought."
Whether or not resveratrol can extend lifespan will require further study, say the authors.
The compound is produced naturally by plants under attack from bacteria or fungi.
It is abundant in the skin of red grapes. Its concentration in red wine varies greatly depending on the grape variety.
Smaller amounts are also found in blueberries, bilberries, cranberries and peanuts.