It’s been a good few days for boozers. Last week, a study found that a component in beer could help protect brain cells from a type of damage that has been linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s. Now, new research suggests that a compound found in red wine could help prevent age-related memory loss.
Middle-aged rats treated with the compound, resveratrol, demonstrated improved learning, memory and mood compared with animals given a dummy drug. Although the researchers have yet to test this out on humans, the encouraging results open up the possibility that treating middle-aged people with this compound could help improve memory and mood in old age.
You’re probably familiar with the list of touted health benefits that red wine supposedly bestows. That’s because red grapes are known to possess a variety of active substances called polyphenols, which are known for their potent antioxidant properties and ability to scavenge reactive molecules called free radicals that can cause tissue damage.
One polyphenol that seems to have hogged the limelight is resveratrol, a compound found in a variety of foods such as the skin of red grapes, blueberries, peanuts and cocoa. Although few studies have examined the health benefits of resveratrol on humans, lab and animal studies have demonstrated that in high enough quantities, it can have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, it may bestow cardiovascular benefits because it has been shown to help prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce the amount of “bad” cholesterol in the body and prevent blood clots.
Since resveratrol has been shown to help reduce inflammation and also trigger the growth of new blood vessels in lab studies, scientists wondered whether it might be able to counteract age-related memory and mood impairments. That’s because a region of the brain known to be important for learning and memory, the hippocampus, experiences inflammation, cell death and diminished vasculature as we age, which is thought to contribute to decreased memory and mood function in the elderly.
To test this hypothesis, scientists from Texas A&M University took two groups of late-middle-aged (21-month-old) rats and conducted a series of behavioral tests on them which revealed that both groups displayed similar learning and memory abilities. Two months later, during the 25th month of life, they administered either resveratrol or a placebo for four weeks, before re-assessing learning and memory abilities.
As described in Nature Scientific Reports, the researchers found that learning ability was maintained in the control mice, but their ability to form new memories deteriorated between the ages of 22 and 25 months. Conversely, those given resveratrol showed improved learning, memory and mood function. Furthermore, these mice experienced double the rate of cell growth and development in the hippocampus when compared with controls. Not only that, but blood vessel formation in this region also increased, and cell death and inflammation diminished.
“The study provides novel evidence that resveratrol treatment in late middle age can help improve memory and mood function in old age,” lead researcher Ashok Shetty said in a news release. Of course, the researchers were using amounts significantly higher than what you would find in a glass of wine or a bar of chocolate; however, the possible beneficial effects of high-dose resveratrol supplements on human subjects may be worth investigating.