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Scientists Find Promise Treating Alzheimer's with a Mix of Wine Compounds

Resveratrol has shown potential, but carries side effects. What if it was combined with other polyphenols?
Scientists hope that combining resveratrol with other ingredients in wine may produce new therapies.
Photo by: James Worrell
Scientists hope that combining resveratrol with other ingredients in wine may produce new therapies.

Christine Dalton
Posted: August 10, 2016

Resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound found in red wine, chocolate, berries and other foods, has yet to live up to its reputation as a wonder drug. The chemical has shown promise in lab studies for treating several maladies, but it's unclear how the body metabolizes it, and most research has found that it must be administered in extremely high doses. Now a team from Australia has found promising results treating Alzheimer's disease with resveratrol combined with two other wine compounds.

A 2015 study from Georgetown University shows the typical pitfalls of research into how resveratrol can be used by our bodies. The scientists found that large amounts of resveratrol—equivalent to the quantity found in 1,000 bottles of typical red wine—slowed Alzheimer’s symptoms in patients suffering from the disease. To achieve this concentration, patients ingested resveratrol in pill form. But taking resveratrol in such high doses can cause a dangerous combination of side effects including nausea, diarrhea and severe dehydration. Because of this, a cautious tack has been taken with clinical trials of high-concentration resveratrol pills in humans.

A new study published in the journal Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry has revisited the idea to use a resveratrol pill to treat Alzheimer’s, but this time with a slightly different approach. Led by neuroscientist Dr. Nady Braidy, researchers from Australia’s University of New South Wales avoided the problems associated with ultrahigh resveratrol doses by creating a treatment that combined moderate doses of the compound—the equivalent of the amount found in 13 bottles of red wine—with two other naturally occurring compounds found in red wine, one an antioxidant and the other a chelating agent, that have been shown to have healthful properties. (Antioxidants are compounds that attract free radicals containing oxygen; chelating agents grab onto metal ions. Red wine contains many examples of both.)

The researchers hypothesized that when taken together, this combination would provide the neuroprotective benefits of red wine without the harmful effects of excessive consumption of alcohol or resveratrol.

Braidy and his team started small, testing the new composite treatment on less than 30 subjects, and the results were promising. They saw that the supplement increased the activity of NAD+, a compound found in all living cells that has been linked to treating age-related neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Because of these findings, the researchers plan to test the new combination on a large group of Alzheimer’s patients in the near future.

For the rest of us, a miracle resveratrol pill may not exist just yet, but the results again suggest that the mix of compounds in a glass of wine hold undiscovered promise.

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