Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, has been found to protect neuromuscular synapses and slow brain ageing – but you couldn’t drink enough red wine in your lifetime to reap the benefits.
Resveratrol is a polyphenolic compound found naturally in peanuts, the skin of red grapes, red wine, and in some berries. It has in the past been widely credited with reducing the risk of cancer, countering the effects of a high fat diet and preventing Alzheimers.
Now scientists from Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have discovered that the compound has many of the neuroprotective benefits of a low-calorie diet and exercise, protecting synapses in the brain to slow its ageing.
The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Science, saw the team treat mice aged two years old, considered “old”, with resveratrol over a period of a year.
Studying the effect on synapses in their brains called neuromuscular junctions – which relay motor commands that flow from neurons in the spinal cord to muscles – the team was able to show that resveratrol was capable of preserving muscle fibres as we age and help protect connections between neurons, called synapses, from the negative effects of ageing.
“We all slow down as we get older,” said Gregorio Valdez, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute who led the study.
“Gait, balance issues, and impaired motor coordination contribute to health problems, accidents, lack of mobility, and a lower quality of life. We work on identifying molecular changes that slow down motor deficits that occur with ageing. I believe that we are getting closer to tapping into mechanisms to slow age-induced degeneration of neuronal circuits.”
The team also discovered that the drug metformin – often prescribed to fight type 2 diabetes – also slowed the rate of muscle fibre ageing in mice, but it did not significantly affect ageing of neuromuscular junctions. However, the drug may possibly protect synapses in different dosage amounts, Valdez added.
“Metformin is an FDA-approved drug to treat diabetes, but our study hints it may also serve the purpose of slowing the motor dysfunction that occurs with aging,” Valdez said.
“There could be an opportunity for researchers and medical doctors to look at the patient population using this drug and ask whether metformin also has a positive effect on motor and cognitive function in humans.”
However the quantity of resveratrol found in red wine means that humans would not get much of the neuroprotective benefits from simply drinking regularly.
“In wine, resveratrol is in such small amounts you could not drink enough of it in your life to have the benefits we found in mice given resveratrol,” Valdez said.
“These studies are on mice and I would caution anyone from blasting their bodies with resveratrol in any form. The next step is to identify the mechanism that enables resveratrol to protect synapses. If we know the mechanism, we can modify resveratrol or look for other molecules that are more effective at protecting the synapses.”
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