A nutrient that gets a lot of attention for slowing down aging is now also being recognized for the good things it does for your brain and mood.
Those good things include improving memory, protecting neurons from the kind of destruction that leads to Parkinson’s disease, and also potentially stopping the cellular processes that lead to depression.
The nutrient – resveratrol – is a natural chemical found in grapes, berries and peanuts and is available as a supplement, as you no doubt know. It’s touted as a reason to drink wine, although alcohol comes with enough negatives that I don’t recommend it as a means of getting resveratrol.
Research shows that it can defend the brain’s neurons from oxidative stress and inflammation. And now a study at the University of Buffalo has examined how resveratrol can alter the workings of brain cells in ways that could push back against depression. Keep reading for more details. . .
The Buffalo researchers focused on how stress and the release of the stress hormone corticosterone affects the brain. They say that when we’re over-stressed, we get too much of this hormone among our neurons, and the hormonal overdose can lead to depression and other mental problems.
These two mood problems are extremely common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the two disorders affect anywhere from 16 to 40 million Americans.
Right now, the most widely used drugs for depression are meant to target the function of the neurotransmitters serotonin or noradrenaline. But this pharmaceutical ploy usually doesn’t work too well. It’s estimated that less than a third of people who take these drugs get complete relief from their depression.
However, the Buffalo research shows that resveratrol attacks depression a different way – by changing the function of an enzyme called PDE4 and keeping it from acting in ways that can bring on the awful emotions that characterize depression in response to stress hormones.1
Other studies that have looked at the relationship between inflammation and depression produce results that also show that resveratrol helps improve your mood. Lab tests at the University of South Carolina indicated that the nutrient can decrease inflammatory actions by the immune system that may bring on the distressing feelings of depression.2
Defends Your Memory
Meanwhile, tests on how resveratrol affects brain function have turned up impressive benefits. A study at Texas A&M demonstrates it can improve learning abilities and memory.
These tests indicate that resveratrol can lead to healthier neurons in the brain’s hippocampus, an important memory center. The tests indicate that it may:3
- Help provide better blood circulation and supply of nutrients to the hippocampus.
- Increase the growth of new neurons.
“The study provides novel evidence that resveratrol treatment in late middle age can help improve memory and mood function in old age,” says researcher Ashok Shetty.
Boost Your BBB
In another area of the brain, the blood-brain barrier, resveratrol also plays an important role. You may remember the “BBB” keeps harmful toxic substances and inflammatory immune cells out of the brain.
A study at Georgetown University Medical Center shows that by reinforcing the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, resveratrol limits inflammation that could otherwise damage neurons and worsen the memory deficits caused by conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.4
The Georgetown scientists say their analysis shows that when this barrier becomes leaky, destructive immune cells are allowed passage into brain tissue and can wreak havoc.
“(Our) findings suggest that resveratrol imposes a kind of crowd control at the border of the brain. The agent seems to shut out unwanted immune molecules that can exacerbate brain inflammation and kill neurons,” says researcher and neurologist Charbel Moussa, MD.
“These are very exciting findings because it shows that resveratrol engages the brain in a measurable way, and that the immune response to Alzheimer’s disease comes, in part, from outside the brain.”
Problems with Absorption and Bioavailability
One big challenge in all of these studies is to find ways to get significant amounts of resveratrol into the brain and other parts of the body where it can do the most good. Researchers are divided about how well the body absorbs resveratrol and how much is needed for the brain and other organs to benefit.
For instance, a lab study in Asia shows that receiving resveratrol in what are called “liposomes” could be effective for Parkinson’s disease.5 Liposomes are tiny vesicles – almost like droplets – made of special kinds of fats that can readily enter the body’s cells. Without the liposomes, the Asian researchers question whether resveratrol therapy for Parkinson’s would work.
These days quite a number of supplement brands offer liposomal forms of various nutrients.
Still, other scientists say you don’t need much resveratrol to reap significant benefits. In one study I’m familiar with, smaller doses of resveratrol were actually more beneficial for the brain than large doses. So I’m not sure you need to pony up the extra bucks for liposomal resveratrol.