My friend has Huntington's disease. Is it safe to drink wine?

Apr 9, 2015

Q: I have a friend with Huntington's disease, which is supposedly helped by many of the ingredients in red wine but not by alcohol itself. Is it safe for my friend to drink wine?—Chuck, Northborough, Mass.

A: Huntington's disease (HD) is a hereditary, degenerative brain condition for which there is no cure at present. The initial symptoms of HD are mostly cognitive and behavioral: poor memory, clumsiness, mood swings and depression. Scientists continue to search for treatments to delay the most serious symptoms of the disease, which include complete muscle deterioration and heart failure.

What you've probably heard is that resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red wine, may help with HD because of its antioxidant properties. Resveratrol is found in various foods, including tea and dark-skinned berries, as well as red grapes and red wine. Some researchers have long suspected that resveratrol exhibits neuroprotective effects, helping the body regulate key metabolic and anti-inflammatory processes.

Studies have found that resveratrol may benefit mice with the Huntington's gene, but there have not been human studies to date. The jury's still out. Until we know more, your friend's best bet is to follow a doctor's counsel. You, on the other hand, can toast your friendship with a nice glass of red wine.

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