Help may be on the way for Americans to offset the unhealthy, high-calorie diets that nutrition experts have been cautioning against. Diet is often cited as the underlying cause of the rising obesity rates in the U.S. Better news still, is the source of the potential help can be found in one of the growth industries in the Lone Star State.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging report that a natural substance found in red wine, known as resveratrol, offsets the bad effects of a high-calorie diet in mice and significantly extends their life span. In the study heavy doses of the red wine extract were given to chubby black mice that had been on the equivalent of a junk food diet. According to the researchers, the mice should have been falling off of their exercise rods. They should have died early. But they didn’t. The mice continued to spin their exercise rods and their ample insides looked like normal healthy mice, only larger. It is way too early to know if a miracle pill is in the making for humans, but scientists are excited. Some have called the results “spectacular.”

Resveratrol is produced when plants are under stress and is found in the skin of grapes. Anyone who has gardened in Texas knows about plants getting stressed. Can you imagine the amount the ingredient to be found in the grapes grown in the state? And there are a lot of grapes being grown in Texas. The Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association in Grapevine estimates there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of vineyard acres over the past five years. The number of gallons of wine produced and bottled is also growing. An interesting statistic provided by the association is an estimated 600,000 gallons of wine produced by wineries of various sizes is sold through tasting rooms. That is local tourism in the communities that house the wineries.

Wineries in the Panhandle have garnered most of the attention up to this point as brands in the region have grown in consumer recognition, and as the quality of the wines have improved also. But in recent years small, successful wineries are sprouting up in other regions of Texas as well. It is hard to take a drive in the west central region and not encounter a vineyard or signs for a winery. One small group of eight wineries in our area has loosely banded together as “Way Out Wineries.” They bill themselves as being on the way out of the Metroplex, on the way out of the Hill Country and as being way out in the country. The eight are within a short drive of Brownwood with Brennan Vineyards in Comanche and Rising Star Vineyards the closest. The other six are, Barking Rocks in Granbury, Bluff Dale Vineyards, Alamosa Cellars in Bend, Red Caboose in Meridian and Pillar Bluff and Texas Legato in Lampasas.

Many in the area have become familiar with the second Friday of the month gourmet dinners at Brennan Vineyards in Comanche. Next weekend, Feb. 2-4, the entire WOW group is celebrating Mardi Gras. Each winery will offer a Cajun or New Orleans style food paired with a selected wine. The festivities will include music, displays of art and other activities. One ticket allows the holder the opportunity to visit all eight of the locations over the three days.

For years, red wine has been linked to numerous health benefits including helping to lower cholesterol. Dr. Richard Hodes with the Institute on Aging said the study with Resveratrol is so promising that his organization is strongly considering a repeat of the experiment with rhesus monkeys which are a closer match to humans than mice. If mammals can get the good effects of cutting calories without actually doing it — what a break through. Hodes cautions, it is too early for people to start taking non-regulated Resveratrol extract supplements. But the availability of the natural source has gotten considerably closer to home.

Robert Brincefield is publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at bob.brincefield@brownwoodbulletin.com.