Resveratrol for better brain health ?

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 15:  Beaujolais Nouveau 2007 wine is opened during a celebration for the young wine, moments after midnight November 15, 2007 in Tel Aviv, Israel. According to tradition, this fruity red wine which is made from the Gamay grape from the Beaujolais region of France, can only be served anywhere in the world after one minute past midnight local time on the 3rd Thursday of each November. The past year, however, has been a disaster for the wine makers of Beaujolais wine-growing region of France who have seen thirteen million bottles from the 2006 harvest turned into vinegar or pure alcohol because they could not be sold.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

A new study (freely available because it is published in PLOS one) published today demonstrates that resveratrol (found in wine), in small doses, fed to middle age mice appears to improve the health of the heart and potentially the brain. Previous studies used quite high doses (22 to 186 mg/kg/day) of resveratrol that would not be practical when converted into human doses unless you could consume what would equate to 100s of bottle of wine (though researchers are working on more potent drugs). However, this new study used a lower dose of resveratrol (4.9 mg/kg/day) and still report positive effects.

There were three groups in the study; control, calorie restricted (which has proven to extend the lifespan and hence health of hundreds animal studies in a wide range of species for the last 90 years), and the resveratrol fed group. The study used microarrays to examine gene expression in the three different groups and found that there was a large overlap of changed gene expression in the calorie restricted (CR) group (known to extend lifespan) and the resveratrol group, which is what you would hope for if resveratrol has any chance of mimicking the lifespan and health improvements of CR. Both the CR group and resveratrol group displayed reduced age related heart dysfunction.

The study did not directly measure the effects of CR or resveratrol on brain function, however there was a large overlap of gene expression in these two groups and where altered compared to the control group. Previous research on CR (which I will discuss another time) have shown multiple positive effects on the brain, including neurogenesis.

Therefore, if resveratrol is inducing similar changes as calorie restriction in the brain it should improve brain health. This is potential good news (if the subsequent research finds specific brain health improvements with resveratrol) because taking a pill is obviously far easier than CR for humans to follow. What is particularly impressive about this study was they started the intervention (CR or resveratrol) in middle age animals, because most of these type of studies start animals in what would equate to human early teenage years.

We might in the near future have a treatment in a simple pill form that not only improves our general health, but also our brain health. Time, money and research will tell. Of course we could all try a glass of wine a day (not high enough dose of resveratrol – but other research suggest benefits from one or two glasses of wine per day (not more)).

For an interesting perspective on the business side of resveratrol check out PIMM.

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