Resveratrol in Alzheimer's Disease

image of human brain illustrating brain shrinking due to resveratrol supplements


An interesting study soon to be published in Neurology journal has shown some promising biomarker changes which suggest that the popular supplement resveratrol is worthy of further study to see if it might slow progression in Alzheimer's disease.

The study looked at a small number of patients and measured the levels of a number of proteins found in the blood which are also found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD).  These 'amyloid' proteins are thought to play a large role in the progression of AD as they build up in the brain and might interfere with nerve function.  This is a widely appreciated theory and certainly has considerable scientific merit, though it remains unproven to date.  More from the Alzheimer's Association about Brain Plaques.

Patients taking a very high dose of resveratrol were found to have higher circulating levels of amyloid in the blood after the study than placebo control patients.  This is thought to be a good thing as levels tend to decline as the disease progresses, possibly due to deposition in the brain reducing circulating levels, though this is just theoretical at present.  It is not common to find higher levels of anything associated with disease being good, but in this case, there is at least a plausible reason to be happy about it.

The study suffered from a large number of flaws which reduce its utility:

  • It was a very small-scale study
  • A large percentage of patients did not complete the study
  • The researchers used a screening tool rather than a proper assessment of the level of AD in study patients.
  • There was no attempt to determine whether AD progressed differently in the study or placebo groups

Overall, these problems mean the study is no more than indicative of likely effects.  The main benefit from the study was to find that even very high doses of resveratrol caused few noticeable side-effects (no more than placebo) though alarmingly, the brain volume decreased substantially in the treated patients compared with placebo patients.  This does not necessarily mean that there was harm from resveratrol as brain shrinkage is not always associated with any clinical effects but it does raise concern about the safety of resveratrol as a supplement.

As for red wine, the original source of resveratrol, you would need to drink over 90 bottles of wine per day to get 1000mg of resveratrol so it is likely that the harm from alcohol in red wine far outweighs any benefits from other components.

For now, there is NO evidence to support resveratrol helping Alzheimer's Disease.  Although it is a promising avenue of research, to date there is no evidence that changing the circulating levels of amyloid actually alters the progress of AD.  Certainly trying to consume wine to obtain benefit is an unwise choice. 

Supplements are very expensive but have few noticeable side effects, although brain shrinkage is concerning.  We recommend you DO NOT take resveratrol until further studies have confirmed its safety and efficacy.



Brain Photo:  Steve and Shanon Lawson

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