Red wine can sharpen the mind and reduce risk factors associated with Alzheimer's disease--at least for rodents, according to new research.
The study, set for publication in the November issue of the journal Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, looked only at alcohol consumption in mice, but the results hold potential for preventing mental decline in humans. The researchers compared three groups of mice: one that consumed moderate amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon wine, one that consumed moderate amounts of other alcohol and one that drank only water.
"We know a good glass of red wine is good to prevent the clogging of arteries," said lead author Giulio Maria Pasinetti, a neuroscience professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "Now, we have demonstrated what prior epidemiological studies have found: There is a beneficial relationship between red wine and the mind."
The study, conducted along with the University of Florida's departments of food science and human nutrition, also analyzed the polyphenolic components of Cabernet Sauvignon. "Indeed, red wine contains chemicals that are soluble and can prevent one of the mechanisms that lead to Alzheimer's disease," Pasinetti said, referring to the buildup of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain.
Earlier research found that the polyphenol resveratrol, which is abundant in red wine, reduces levels of amyloid-beta peptides, strings of sticky proteins that can clump together, killing surrounding brain cells. When these plaques form, a person may experience a loss of short-term memory, judgment and attention span, among other symptoms. While this occurs naturally with age, Alzheimer's patients experience the loss at an accelerated pace.
The goal of the seven-month experiment was to look for a possible method to prevent the disease, such as a pill that would be suitable regardless of a patient's health or economic status. "You can drink a glass or two of red wine at night and expect a lower risk of Alzheimer's, sure," Pasinetti said, "but diseased people, such as those with metabolic syndrome, diabetes or liver conditions, can't."
The researchers studied three equal-size groups of female mice, which had access to adequate amounts of food and clean water at all times. The control group received only water to drink. The other two groups received 4 milliliters per day of water mixed with alcohol at a concentration of 6 percent by volume. For one set of mice, the water was mixed with pure ethanol, for the other it was mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon wine. The alcohol amounted to about 7 percent of a mouse's daily energy consumption, comparable to moderate alcohol consumption in humans (one 5-ounce glass for a woman, two glasses for men), according to the study.
The mice underwent a series of tests to measure their cognitive abilities. For instance, a mouse would be repeatedly placed in a circle surrounded by 16 holes, only one of which provided escape. The amount of time it took for the mouse to remember which hole was the exit indicated its level of spatial awareness and mental recall.
At the end of seven months, the mice's brains were examined. The mice that drank Cabernet had an average of 50 percent fewer amyloid-beta plaques than the mice that drank only water. The group given ethanol showed 25 percent fewer plaques than the control group. The Cabernet Sauvignon group also performed better in the cognitive tests, showing more get-up-and-go when placed in the escape circle. The mice that consumed ethanol and water only tended to get moving at slower rates as the months passed.
The difference between the Cabernet and ethanol groups supported the researchers' hypothesis that red wine reduces amyloid-beta plaques through a mechanism involving its polyphenols rather than its alcohol content. However, Pasinetti could not name which compound may provide the benefits because the experiments with the mice did not test the wine's components separately.
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