A molecule found in red wine may be the key to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s, new findings presented Wednesday suggest.

Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, red grapes, raspberries, and chocolate, appears to repair “leaky” blood-brain barriers, which allow blood from the body to enter the brain. This repair slowed the advancement of cognitive problems in Alzheimer’s patients, according to a study from Georgetown University Medical Center.  

The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s are often further damaged by nervous tissue inflammation, which is associated with neuron degradation and cognitive decline. This inflammation is partially caused by the secretion of harmful immune molecules from the body into the brain through a permeable blood-brain barrier.

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Study authors found that resveratrol appears to restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, keeping the harmful immune molecules out of the brain.

“These findings suggest that resveratrol imposes a kind of crowd control at the border of the brain. The agent seems to shut out unwanted immune molecules that can exacerbate brain inflammation and kill neurons,” study author Dr. Charbel Moussa, scientific and clinical research director of the Georgetown Medical Center Translational Neurotherapeutics Program, said in the news release.These are very exciting findings because it shows that resveratrol engages the brain in a measurable way, and that the immune response to Alzheimer’s disease comes, in part, from outside the brain.”

The results, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto,  built off of a study from Georgetown Medical Center on resveratrol in individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, published last year in Neurology.

The new aspects of the study examined the cerebrospinal fluid of 38 individuals with Alzheimer’s. Half of the participants were given a placebo, and the other half were treated daily with resveratrol for a year. According to researchers, this amount of resveratrol equated to the amount found in approximately 1,000 bottles of red wine.

Researchers saw a 50 percent reduction in the levels of a molecule known as matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) in the cerebrospinal fluid. High levels of MMP-9 result in the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier and the leakage of harmful immune molecules through it. Low levels of MMP-9, researchers assert, maintain the barrier more effectively.

“These new findings are exciting because they increase our understanding of how resveratrol may be clinically beneficial to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease,” lead researcher R. Scott Turner, director of Georgetown Medical Center’s Memory Disorders Program and co-director of the Translational Neurotherapeutics Program, said in the news release. “In particular, they point to the important role of inflammation in the disease, and the potent anti-inflammatory effects of resveratrol.”

Researchers noted that resveratrol should be further tested in clinical settings; however, they do not see the molecule itself becoming a complete treatment for Alzheimer’s. Instead, Turner said, researchers hope to combine the molecule with a separate agent that can target specific Alzheimer’s-causing proteins in the brain.