More specifically it is the plant compound resveratrol found in red wine that is responsible for these effects. According to a University at Buffalo-led study, the component blocks the expression of an enzyme related to the control of stress in the brain.
Its effects are so powerful, the researchers are saying it might even offer a viable alternative to current medications. "Resveratrol may be an effective alternative to drugs for treating patients suffering from depression and anxiety disorders," said Ying Xu, MD, PhD, co-lead author and research associate professor in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Resveratrol is found in the skin and seeds of grapes and berries and has been linked to many health benefits. The compound has been touted for its reported anti-aging and disease-fighting powers.
Previous research had already found resveratrol to have antidepressant effects but its effect on phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4), an enzyme controlled by the stress hormone corticosterone, was still a mystery.
Too much corticosterone
Corticosterone is responsible for the body's response to stress. Too much stress leads to excessive amounts of the hormone in the brain.
This in turns leads to the development of depression or other mental disorders. But up to now, these elements remained unknown leading to more complex drug therapies that instead focused on serotonin.
However, these therapies are often ineffective as only one-third of patients with depression enter full remission in response to current medications, said Xu. In a study on mice, Xu and his team found that PDE4 causes depression- and anxiety-like behavior.
The enzyme was induced by excessive amounts of corticosterone and proceeded to lower cyclic adenosine monophosphate. This is a messenger molecule that signals physiological changes leading to physical alterations in the brain.
The researchers further found that resveratrol inhibited the expression of PDE4 resulting in neuroprotective effects against corticosterone. Does that mean that the compound could be the basis for a whole new type of antidepressants?
Only time will tell. However, in the meantime, it might be wise to remember that red wine with all its benefits also carries certain risks such as addiction and should be consumed moderately.
The study is published on July 15 in the journal Neuropharmacology.