It has been known that a natural compound called resveratrol is likely beneficial to human health; new research has added to that evidence. Reporting in The Journal of Gerontology, investigators found that this natural chemical found in some fruits, peanuts and in red wine seems to have a neuroprotective effect against aging. The benefit conferred to neurons by the resveratrol is potentially equivalent to that seen from exercising and consuming a good diet. The work has been summarized in the following video.
Resveratrol is a polyphenolic molecule; polyphenols are one kind of phytochemical, which are thought to combat the deleterious effects of oxidative species or free radicals. The overall impact is a retention of youth by the cells of our body. Resveratrol has been linked to reductions in disorders like cancer, heart disease, and some neurodegenerative illnesses.
Our neurons communicate with one another and other cells at junctions called synapses, Those synapses are critical to the function of our nervous system, which enables us to perform basic functions like thinking and moving. As we get older, the junctions between neurons and muscle cells start to break down. In this research, the investigators showed that a healthy diet used in combination with a regular exercise regimen could offer protection against that degeneration of neuromuscular junctions.
When the researchers compared the effects of a good diet and exercise to another regroup of mice that had been treated with resveratrol, they saw a similar benefit to these mice. This work solidifies the connection between reseveratrol and a protective effect on neurons.
The scientists took it a step further and analyzed the impact of a drug typically used to treat type 2 diabetes, metformin. Metformin did act to help keep muscle fibers young, but it did not have any effect on the neuromuscular junctions. Gregorio Valdez, an Assistant Professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute who led the work, noted that other dosage levels of that drug could still be tested.
"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 explained.
Valdez suggested that this work could indicate that metformin in worthy of additional investigation; it's "an opportunity for researchers and medical doctors to look at the patient population using this drug and ask whether [it] also has a positive effect on motor and cognitive function in humans."
However, he cautioned that this work should not send us rushing to open bottles of wine in an attempt to recapitulate the effects that were seen in the mice. "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. These studies are in mice and I would caution anyone from blasting their bodies with resveratrol in any form."
Valdez noted that the next steps will include uncovering how resveratrol exerts a neuroprotective effect. "If we know the mechanism," he said, "we can modify resveratrol or look for other molecules that are more effective at protecting the synapses."
Aging remains a serious burden that can be understood in greater depth and potentially, better treated. "Gait, balance issues, and impaired motor coordination contribute to health problems, accidents, lack of mobility, and a lower quality of life," Valdez added. "We work on identifying molecular changes that slow down motor deficits that occur with aging. I believe that we are getting closer to tapping into mechanisms to slow age-induced degeneration of neuronal circuits."
If you'd like to know more about resveratrol and its effects on human health,check out the video above featuring Harvard Professor Dr. David Sinclair.