Could red wine hold the key to new depression treatments?

Cheers! A compound found in red wine could open up possibilities for antidepressants.
Cheers! A compound found in red wine could open up possibilities for antidepressants.

If you like to savour a glass of red wine after a long day, it could be more than the sheer enjoyment of the beverage, or the effects of the alcohol.

Resveratrol, a plant compound commonly found in red wine, affects an enzyme in the brain that is specifically related to stress-control, according to new research by the University at Buffalo in New York.

This study shows how resveratrol can impact neurological processes in the brain.

"Resveratrol may be an effective alternative to drugs for treating patients suffering from depression and anxiety disorders," says Ying Xu, MD, PhD, co-lead author and research associate professor in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The study, published on 15 July in the journal Neuropharmacology, was also led by Xiaoxing Yin, PhD, professor at Xuzhou Medical University in China.

What exactly is resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a compound which forms part of the group polyphenols. It is found in the skin and seeds of red grapes, as well as in peanuts and berries.

The compound has been linked to a number of health benefits in the past, including the reduction of inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.

The new research identified resveratrol as having an antidepressant effect, but at this stage, the compound’s precise relationship to an enzyme (PDE4) influenced by the stress hormone corticosterone is still unknown, according to the press release.

Why the effect on corticosterone can shed light on treating depression

The hormone corticosterone regulates our bodies’ response to emotional stress. When we stress too much, our bodies produce excess amounts of this hormone in the brain, which can potentially lead to depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.

Current antidepressants available to us focus on serotonin, rather than corticosterone. But according to Xu, only a third of patients with depression are ever completely in remission on these medications.

When suffering from depression, it can also be a trail-and-error struggle to find the right drug that doesn't have too many side-effects.

In a study on mice, researchers revealed that the enzyme phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4), induced by excessive amounts of corticosterone, causes depression- and anxiety-like behaviour.

This enzyme can cause physical changes in the brain that may lead to mental disorders.

But in the research, resveratrol displayed neuroprotective effects against corticosterone by inhibiting the function of the PDE4 enzyme. Although the research was performed in mice, and is still in its early stages, it could eventually open up new possibilities for antidepressant drugs.

Don’t overindulge in wine, yet

While it’s okay to sip on an occasional glass of red wine and reap some of the health benefits it offers, alcohol consumption still comes with health risks such as addiction and greater risks of chronic disease, and should therefore be enjoyed in moderation.

Image credit: iStock

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