Alzheimer’s disease can’t be stopped, but there is new hope that a component found in red wine, the skin of grapes and dark chocolate could slow down the aggressive disease from progressing.

After conducting a study on resveratrol’s affects on patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, Dr. R. Scott Turner suggested it could be a breakthrough in research.

To conduct his experiment, Turner  sought out 120 random men and women ages 50 and older and who had been diagnosed with the disease. He then split them up into an experimental and control group. Some of the inclusion criteria included the following:

  • Ability to ingest oral medicines
  • Caregiver who could accompany the participant during visits twice a week
  • A score between 14 and 26 on the Mini Mental State Examination. This test is used to help clinicians diagnosis dementia and analyze its severity and progression. Participants who take the test are required to answer a variety of questions which examine a person’s memory, attention and language
  • Ability to abstain from eating or drinking substances that had large amounts of resveratrol-containing foods that would offset the study.

Participants were excluded on a number of basis, such as if they had significant health problems and used other investigational agents 2 months prior to taking part in Turner’s study.

Turner’s research looked to prove and expand upon an original hypothesis that high levels of red wine could help lower the risk of dementia. He acknowledged the fact there was already “compelling evidence that caloric restriction” would activate a class of enzymes known as sirtuins and thus, improve overall health. Resveratrol, a substance found in plants and fruit, such as grapes, would activate sirtuins by mimicking the effects of caloric restriction.

Turner gave a portion of participants resveratrol and started them off at 500 mg once daily with the intention of increasing it to 1 gram twice daily. He gave the others a matching placebo for 12 months.

After the first 52 weeks, the experimental group had their blood drawn and underwent two lumbar punctures to analyze cerebrospinal fluid. At the same time they went underwent magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the whole brain and how it responded to resveratrol.

A much smaller group of 15 took part in a more detailed study that measured resveratrol levels over 24 hours.

While Turner thought resveratrol might work, he also had his reservations.

“My nightmare was that nothing would be different from the placebo group, and there would be nothing of interest to talk about,” he said. “But that did not happen. I think resveratrol is an engaging target that’s very interesting and could be pharmacologically manipulated to develop a treatment.”

The study found that patients who had used resveratrol during the designated time period did not show a drop in their level of amyloid-beta40 protein levels. Those who took only placebo, however did. As dementia worsens, Abeta40 begins to drop.

Turner also did not see any drop in the protein levels in the spine and blood. This is significant because as Alzheimer’s progresses, protein plaques begin to develop in the brain, causing a shortage of protein in the rest of the body. He also noticed that the brains of the experimental group were smaller than those of the control group. This is important because Alzheimer’s often causes the brain to swell due to inflammation.

While more research needs to be conducted, this is a positive sign for Alzheimer’s research.