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Study Finds Hope in Treating Alzheimer's With Wine Polyphenol

Mount Sinai researchers find that a grape chemical can be absorbed by rats' brains and stop mental decline

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: May 15, 2012

A new study has found encouraging results treating lab rats suffering from Alzheimer's disease with polyphenols derived from red wine. The research is important because it's a rare case where the wine compounds worked outside the petri dish. In the last five years, medical research has focused on wine polyphenols as a potential preventative for cognitive decline, but there has been little success with animal tests. This new study, from Mount Sinai in New York, comes one step closer to making such therapy a reality.

In lab conditions, polyphenols have broken down amyloid-beta plaques, which clog up the brain's pathways in Alzheimer's. In rodent testing, however, it becomes more of a challenge. Previous research finds that red wine-based supplements are often digested in the intestine, moved to the liver and then metabolized without great benefits. In order to create a clinical product for the body to absorb, a biosynthetic polyphenol would need to be ingested orally, nasally or subcutaneously to enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain.

There are other complications. As head researcher Dr. Giulio Pasinetti, a neurologist and geriatric researcher at Mount Sinai, points out, grapes from California are different than grapes from Greece. Red wine can contain polyphenols with very different chemical structures. Finding the best red wine molecule combination to direct toward human testing can be hit and miss. "It's a relatively new field, the focus on grapes in nutraceuticals, and it is so very complicated," Pasinetti told Wine Spectator. "The big problem is that the answers appear to be somewhere in red wine, but commercially available simulations, like grape powders, are not nearly as powerful."

For this study, reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the Mount Sinai researchers administered several doses of red wine polyphenols catechin and epicatechin to lab rats. They found when they altered the chemical structure from a polymer to a more simple monomer, the polyphenols accumulated in the brain. The red wine compounds were administered in drinking water, which means they were absorbed early in the digestive process.

It is the first time these chemicals were found in the brain, suggesting a possible preventative role, Pasinetti believes. Rats on the monomer combination not only showed fewer symptoms of Alzheimer's, but also appeared to be more intelligent in several tests.

Pasinetti admitted that developing a possible therapy for people suffering from Alzheimer's or other cognitive diseases will take time. But Mount Sinai is using the results toward its clinical research into aging and red wine consumption. So far, the researchers have not found an adequate substitute for the responsible consumption of red wine. And there are, from time to time, setbacks in the research that can delay the results. "Nature is unpredictable," Passinetti said. "Sometimes you can end up going in the wrong direction."

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