Red wine compound can slow brain ageing, study finds

Resveratrol keeps brain young – but unfortunately wine contains too little to have effect

Katie Forster
Tuesday 07 March 2017 15:37 GMT
Resveratrol is found in red wine and the skin of red grapes
Resveratrol is found in red wine and the skin of red grapes (Getty)

A substance found in red wine can help keep the brain young in a similar way to exercise and a low-calorie diet, scientists have discovered.

Resveratrol, which occurs naturally in the skin of fruits including grapes, blueberries and mulberries, can keep muscles supple and help protect connections between neurons in the brain, according to researchers at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Tests on elderly mice showed the compound significantly slowed brain ageing by preserving synapses called neuromuscular junctions, which relay movement signals from the brain to the muscles.

Mice who had been given resveratrol from one year of age had more youthful neuromuscular junction synapses at two years old than those who had not.

“I believe that we are getting closer to tapping into mechanisms to slow age-induced degeneration of neuronal circuits,” said the study’s primary author, assistant professor Gregorio Valdez.

Red wine contains more resveratrol than white wine because it is fermented with the grape skins.

However, wine lovers will be disappointed to hear that the alcoholic drink does not contain enough resveratrol to ward off old age.

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“In wine, resveratrol is in such small amounts you could not drink enough of it in your life to have the benefits we found in mice given resveratrol,” said Dr Valdez.

“These studies are in mice and I would caution anyone from blasting their bodies with resveratrol in any form.”

“The next step is to identify the mechanism that enables resveratrol to protect synapses. If we know the mechanism, we can modify resveratrol or look for other molecules that are more effective at protecting the synapses.“

Dr Valdez and his team also tested the diabetes drug metformin and found that slowed muscle ageing but did not it also helped to slow synapse degeneration in the brain like exercise and a healthy diet.

The study, published in the Journals of Gerontology, Series A, found that while resveratrol had a neuroprotective effect, it was less effective than a calorie-restricted diet at protecting the brain from aging.

Learning a second language has also been shown to delay brain ageing – but while a glass of red wine might help with French conversation practice, unfortunately it won’t do much else.

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