Step away from the red wine.
Researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) have made an unexpected discovery concerning resveratrol, a compound that occurs naturally in the skin of red grapes and peanuts. People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) often take resveratrol in supplement form because research has shown it has some antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
But, considering the results of this study, that could well change.
Ikuo Tsunoda, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor at LSU, and his team discovered that resveratrol actually worsens MS-like symptoms in animal models of the disease. This surprised researchers because they expected the compound to protect nerves. Instead, they found that it worsened nerve damage in mice and increased inflammation, while offering no neuroprotective benefits.
Mimicking MS in Mice
In an interview with Healthline, Tsunoda said the idea for this study came about after he found that some mutant mice with increased levels of the protein SIRT1 appeared to be protected from nerve damage. These mutant mice recovered completely from an MS-like disease while other mice did not.
Hoping to reproduce this protection in other mice with MS-like disease, they turned to resveratrol, which has been reported to increase SIRT1 levels.
“We hypothesized that if we treat [mice with MS-like disease] with resveratrol, it should protect against axonal damage, and could be used for MS patients in the future,” said Tsunoda. His team was disappointed to learn that SIRT1 was not only ineffective, but actually worsened disease activity.
Researchers often use disease “models” in mice to mimic human conditions like MS. “Currently, we cannot tell whether individual MS cases [in humans] are caused by autoimmunity, viral infections, or something else (for example, chemical damage),” said Tsunoda.
So, they worked with the closest examples they could find: mice infected with a virus that destroys myelin, the protective covering surrounding nerve cells in the brain.
Researchers used two mouse viruses that cause different types of nerve damage—one destroys myelin first, and the other first attacks the axons inside nerves. Tsunoda explained, “The protection of axons is important to stop disease progression, since regeneration of axons in the central nervous system is very difficult.”
The main goal of this study was to find a way to protect the axons, since MS brain lesions that destroy axons can lead to permanent disability.
How Might Resveratrol Cause Inflammation?
At the start of the study, all the mice exhibited MS-like symptoms, including paralysis of their hind legs and tails. Some of the mice were given a “control diet,” while others were fed a diet that included resveratrol. After five weeks, mice fed the control diet showed either complete recovery or mild paralysis, but all the mice fed resveratrol had severe and lasting disease activity without remission.
And resveratrol did not kill either of the mouse viruses the researchers used, though Tsunoda did note in a press release that some studies by other scientists have shown that resveratrol has “antiviral effects on some viruses related to MS, such as herpes simplex virus and Epstein-Barr virus.”
To help explain their findings, the researchers suggest that resveratrol, which dilates blood vessels, might allow inflammatory cells to travel through vessel walls and into the central nervous system. This migration could play a key role in the development of MS.
Put Down that (Second) Bottle
Although taking resveratrol supplements should be discouraged, said Tsunoda, “To achieve the dose used in many resveratrol studies in animals (including our study), one has to drink more than one bottle of red wine daily.”
While resveratrol can be found in certain foods, Tsunoda stresses there is no need to remove them from your diet. “I would recommend eating a variety of foods, including red grapes and peanuts, for health rather than avoiding them,” he said.