Resveratrol's reputation as a polyphenolic fountain of youth just got another boost. Past research has found that the polyphenol—an antioxidant found in grape skins, berries and other foods—may improve heart health and reduce risk of Alzheimer's disease, cancer, obesity and other health risks. But studies focusing on whether it could actually slow the aging process have been inconsistent.
A new study, led by researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, has found evidence that resveratrol can protect neural connections in the brain and muscle fibers from the adverse effects of aging.
“Altogether, we provide compelling evidence indicating that resveratrol slows aging of [neuromuscular junctions] and muscle fibers,” states the study, published online in the The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biomedical Sciences and Medical Sciences.
Neuromuscular junctions, or NMJs, are synapses that coordinate chemical signals between motor neurons and muscle fibers. For example, when a neural signal travels from the brain to the arm muscles to tell the hand to flex, NMJs allow signals to be exchanged as they pass between cells.
Over time, NMJs fragment and degenerate, leading to decreased motor coordination in older adults. Previous research at Harvard University in 2010 suggested that exercise and caloric restriction could slow this degeneration. The new research suggests resveratrol may do the same.
Led by assistant professor Dr. Gregorio Valdez, the team of researchers treated older mice (2 years in age) to test the effects of resveratrol as well as metformin, a drug used to help control blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes patients. After one year, the researchers compared the NMJs at the start and end of the study to view changes in the chemical structures.
Compared with mice fed a regular diet, the mice who consumed a resveratrol-rich diet showed 18 percent less degeneration in their NMJs, while the mice treated with the metformin drug showed no discernible effect—around 3 percent less degeneration.
These findings suggest that resveratrol helps preserves motor function—and slows aging—by protecting NMJs. Resveratrol did not help to build new NMJ structures, which could have suggested a reversal of aging. (Unfortunately for wine-lovers, the doses of resveratrol given to the mice were much higher than those found in a glass of red wine.)
"Our study shows that resveratrol, and to a much lesser extent metformin, preserves the integrity of the synapses that controls all voluntary movements. This finding is quite significant: It shows that synapses can be protected from the ravages of aging by a small molecule, resveratrol," Valdez told Wine Spectator via email.
Following this line of research, it’s possible that resveratrol could have an effect on other cells that affect muscles and motor function. Valdez says it's a "foundation for testing different doses of resveratrol, variants of resveratrol, and other small molecules."