If you can’t resist dark chocolate and you’re more than partial to a glass of red wine, the latest research from scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center should come as welcome news. The results of their recent study suggests that resveratrol, a compound found in both these items appears to improve the integrity of the blood barrier in people with Alzheimer’s disease. While resveratrol was first trialled with Alzheimer’s patients in 2015, this study provides a more complete picture of those results.
The cause of Alzheimer’s is believed to be an inflammatory reaction to the build-up of abnormal proteins which damages the neurons within the brain. This new study suggests that some of these immune molecules travel to the brain through a faulty blood-brain barrier, but that resveratrol can prevent this by shutting out these unwanted molecules. When given to Alzheimer’s patients, resveratrol has the effect of reducing the ability of harmful molecules secreted by immune cells to pass from the body into the tissue in the brain. Furthermore, this reduction of inflammation in the neurons slowed down the cognitive decline of the patients.
The researchers initially chose to study the effects of resveratrol on patients with Alzheimer’s because it mimics the effects of restricting calories. Previous studies with animals have already shown that age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s, can be prevented or delayed by restricting calorie intake to two-thirds of the normal intake, over a long period of time.
In the original study, researchers tested resveratrol, which occurs naturally in foods such as red grapes, red wine, dark chocolate and raspberries, on 119 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Now researchers have taken this one step further by examining specific molecules contained with cerebrospinal fluid taken from patients with biomarker-confirmed Alzheimer’s. Of the participants, 19 were treated with a daily dose of resveratrol for a year, while the 19 others were given a placebo. The amount of resveratrol given overall was equivalent to the amount normally found in 1,000 bottles of red wine.
As a result of this study the researchers found that the patients who had been given resveratrol exhibited a 50% reduction in a substance in the cerebrospinal fluid which, in high quantities, is known to cause a breakdown in the blood-brain barrier.
The results from this study will help scientists to increase their understanding of how the anti-inflammatory effects of resveratrol can be beneficial to people with Alzheimer’s, particularly as their research has suggested that its use can increase the levels of molecules that are linked to a long-term adaptive immune response. Furthermore, use of resveratrol has been shown to shrink the brain, supporting the hypothesis that it can decrease swelling from inflammation. This means that it could potentially also be useful in developing treatments for other inflammation based brain diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis.
However, the scientists do say that resveratrol alone cannot be used to fight Alzheimer’s as it doesn’t stop the destruction of the brain cells by tau proteins.
The results from the study were presented at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in Toronto at the end of July.