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Red Wine, Resveratrol May Build Brain Resistance to Stroke


If you drink a glass of red wine with dinner, you may be helping your brain to build resistance to stroke. Investigators at Johns Hopkins report that they have discovered how red wine and its component, resveratrol, may offer this protection to the brain following a stroke.

Numerous studies have investigated the impact of resveratrol, the potent antioxidant found primarily in grape seeds and skin, on nerve cells and neuronal damage in the brain. Specifically, scientists have been exploring the ability of resveratrol to provide neuroprotection against ischemic attack, including a University of Miami study in 2008 and a Hamdard University study in 2009. The results thus far have been promising.

Now researchers at Johns Hopkins say they have identified how resveratrol protects the brain: by increasing levels of an enzyme called heme oxygenase, which is already known to provide neuroprotection. When levels of this enzyme are elevated, the brain is armed and ready when a stroke occurs.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion by studying two groups of mice. One group received a small amount of resveratrol two hours before scientists induced an ischemic stroke by cutting off the blood supply to their brains. A second group of mice that did not receive resveratrol also were induced. The mice treated with resveratrol experienced significantly less brain damage than the ones in the control group.

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Sylvain Dore, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and pharmacology and molecular sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explains that this finding “adds to evidence that resveratrol can potentially build brain resistance to ischemic stroke.”

Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke, accounting for 87 percent of all stroke cases, according to the American Stroke Association. The American Heart Association’s “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2010 Update” notes that 6.4 million strokes occur each year in the United States, with 1,371,000 deaths. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the country.

Dr. Dore emphasizes that until more is known about the impact of resveratrol, consumers should avoid taking supplements. He also noted that although resveratrol is found in red grapes, the alcohol in wine may be necessary to concentrate the amounts of the antioxidant to provide the benefits. That possibility, however, should not be an incentive for people to drink alcohol.

Dr. Dore noted that his research suggests that the amount of resveratrol needed to build the brain’s resistance to stroke may be low, but that no one yet knows the optimal amount nor what types of red wine are best. “Resveratrol itself may not be shielding brain cells from free radical damage directly, but instead, resveratrol, and its metabolites, may be prompting the cells to defend themselves,” noted Dore. And that means “even a small amount may be sufficient.”

American Heart Association
American Stroke Association
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine