Red-Wine Compound Has Potential to Alleviate Lung Diseases, Study Finds

Resveratrol prevents inflammation of lung cells, but don't hold your breath for a red-wine inhaler
Nov 16, 2004

The red-wine compound resveratrol may one day be administered to people with stubborn lung ailments that resist traditional treatments, according to researchers at Imperial College London in England.

Resveratrol is effective at stopping inflammation in human lung cells, the research team reported in the October issue of the American Journal of Physiology--Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology. Lead author Louise Donnelly said the study's results show the compound's potential for helping asthmatics and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), even in cases where typical treatments, such as hormones or steroids, are not effective.

The recent findings build on research published by Donnelly and her team last year; they found that resveratrol reduced lung inflammation in smokers and COPD sufferers. COPD is a term used for varying ailments such as bronchitis and emphysema, but not asthma.

In their current study, Donnelly's team looked into how resveratrol helps alleviate lung problems and found that it works its magic on a molecular level. "What resveratrol is doing is switching inflammatory genes off," Donnelly said. These inflammatory genes are present in COPD and asthma patients. Donnelly added that this is different from the way hormone or steroid therapies work.

Resveratrol--which is found in grapes (primarily in the skins, making it more abundant in red wine than in white), certain nuts and berries--is believed to have many possible health benefits. In past studies, resveratrol has shown potential in reducing cholesterol levels and improving cardiovascular health, helping to prevent some types of cancer, including lung cancer, and reducing the growth of skin melanomas. A previous study found that wine drinkers may have healthier lungs than other drinkers and nondrinkers, although according to that research, people who primarily drank white wine fared even better than those who drank primarily red wine.

To test the anti-inflammatory properties of resveratrol, the researchers placed samples of human lung cells in petri dishes. The researchers said lung cells will become inflamed over time if they are left alone and exposed to oxygen; this is due to factors such as the breakdown of cellular RNA or the release of chemicals known to cause inflammation.

Donnelly and her team added resveratrol in quantities of 0.1, 1, 10 and 100 micromolars (a measure of a substance's concentration) into different petri dishes and used untreated lung cell samples as a control. They also repeated the experiment with two other compounds found in wine: quercetin, which has been found to have weak anti-cancer properties in previous research, and deoxyrhapontin, another obscure red-wine compound. The scientists monitored the molecular activity in the dishes, using more than 10 different methods of measuring inflammatory markers.

In short, they found that resveratrol reduced inflammation by around 75 percent at 100 micromolars. At lesser quantities, the compound was ineffective, the study found. Quercetin reduced inflammation by around 50 percent at 100 micromolars and was also ineffective at lower doses. The deoxyrhapontin showed little effect on inflammation at any level.

"This study demonstrates that plant-derived polyphenolic compounds can act as novel anti-inflammatory agents," the authors wrote.

Resveratrol's anti-inflammatory properties make it a good candidate for future research into possible lung remedies, Donnelly said. But asthmatics and patients with COPD are not likely to get much benefit from over-the-counter resveratrol supplements or from drinking beverages containing resveratrol.

"You would never be able to drink enough red wine to have these effects in the body," Donnelly said. "The problem is that resveratrol disappears very quickly from the bloodstream." However, developing an aerosol mist that is inhaled through the nose or mouth is one possibility, Donnelly said.

The strength of the compounds is another issue; Donnelly said her team would have to supercharge resveratrol to make it more effective. "We think that we need something similar to resveratrol in molecular structure that has increased potency," she said. "We are currently looking at a series of such molecules."

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