Red wine is perhaps the most widely praised alcoholic beverage for its health benefits. Regularly consumed in moderation as part of a healhty Mediterranean diet, red wine is made from grapes that are high in antioxidants and polyphenols, which are known have cancer-fighting and longevity benefits.
In a new study conducted by Virginia Tech researchers, it was discovered that a compound found in red wine — called resveratrol — has the power to help keep the brain young and healthy. Resveratrol is a naturally-occurring compound in raspberries, pomegranates, blueberries, mulberries, raw cacao, dark chocolate and the skin of grapes, which has been shown to protect against the age-related breakdown of muscle fibers and connections between synapses in the brain.
To examine the effects of resveratrol, the researchers took two year-old mice (considered to be “old” in mouse years) and treated them with resveratrol for a period of one year. The researchers specifically looked at the effects of the resveratrol on synapses associated with voluntary movement, called neuromuscular junctions (NMJ), which carry motor commands flowing from neurons within the spinal cord toward the muscles.
In a previous study, researchers discovered that a low-calorie diet and exercise helped protect NMJ synapses from breaking down during the aging process. The mice that were treated with resveratrol had more youthful NMJ synapses compared to two-year-old mice that didn’t receive treatment, showing similar effects to that of how diet and exercise benefited the youthfulness of NMJ synapses.
There’s just one big downside to this new discovery: humans can’t get the same neuroprotective benefits as the mice did in this particular study just by deciding to make red wine a part of their healthy diet. Red wine contains such small amounts of resveratrol that there’s no way to drink enough of it safely to get the benefits that were seen in mice, with previous research on the effects of resveratrol in human subjects showing no significant benefits.
The next step for the researchers is to dive deeper into examining the mechanics of how resveratrol protects NMJ synapses. Once this is known, either modifications can be made to resveratrol, or the researchers can work on identifying compounds that have similar or better neuroprotective benefits.
This doesn’t necessarily mean red wine has nothing to offer and that it should be given up altogether. If you enjoy drinking red wine in moderation, there’s no reason to stop unless your doctor tells you so.
Following the Mediterranean Diet, women can enjoy one glass of red wine a day while men can have up to two glasses a day. So pour yourself a glass, breathe in the aromas, take a sip and don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet overall — because the bigger picture is what really counts.