As the conductor of your body, your brain is responsible for everything. It’s what thinks, loves, and decides. It’s what can make you feel frazzled and stressed. It’s the organ that directs the rest of your body to work through the signals it sends. And it’s the thing that gives you the ability to read these very words.
While all of your body parts are so very important to your overall health, there’s no denying that your brain plays an extra-special role. That’s not only because it’s the most complex organ in the human body, but because of the intense role it plays in all matters of your health.
In addition, matters of the brain, well, matter. That’s because as you age, your brain can lose some of its function, some of its zip, some of its ability to direct your biological traffic.
Day to day, we all experience those times when our brains don’t feel quite right. No, it’s not like an achy joint or an acute pain, but we can experience things like brain fog or memory lapses or even feeling the weight of the world upon us. Long-term, there’s no doubt that a declining mind is one of our biggest health fears, and many of you probably have experienced this first-hand, seeing the effects that an aging brain can have on family members.
That’s why brain health is more than just a “now what did I do with my keys?” issue. It’s about preserving your cognitive function as well as you can.
In addition to its role as an overall anti-aging fighter, resveratrol—one of nature’s most powerful compounds—can have an effect on your brain health as well. Let’s take a look to see how.
The Aging Brain
As you age, the brain shrinks, or loses volumes. (This happens in the frontoparietal and hippocampal regions. The occipital lobe, in the back of the brain, shrinks much less with age.) This is a natural part of the aging process, and it typically starts in middle age (though your brain’s gray matter, which processes information in your brain, starts to lose volume after age 20).[*] That’s when you may notice things like occasional forgetfulness, decreased processing speed and mental flexibility, and reduced ability for solving problems or maintaining attentiveness. Interestingly, some cognitive abilities, such as vocabulary, are resilient to brain aging and may even improve with age.[*]
What Ages Your Brain
Studies estimate that about 60 percent of general cognitive ability can be attributed to genetics, but it seems that lifestyle and behaviors are a large driver of cognitive decline. And some estimate that with increased longevity, we will also see an increase in age-related cognitive problems. Some of the following factors have been shown to have an effect on brain health or memory-related disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Midlife obesity
- Little or no mental activity
- Little or no physical exercise
- Some medications
- Changes in mood, such as depression or anxiety
- Some medical issues, such as pain and arthritis, which have been shown to influence things like concentration and processing speed
The Rundown on Resveratrol
Resveratrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol found in almost 70 plants and fruits.[*] It can be found in fruits, like blueberries, blackberries, and grapes, and even peanuts and cocoa/dark chocolate. It’s very often associated with red wine (because of the skin of the grapes), with Pinot Noir and St Laurent grape varieties boasting the highest levels of resveratrol. Resveratrol is well absorbed by humans, but its bioavailability is relatively low because it is rapidly metabolized and eliminated.[*][*][*]
Slowing Down the Decline
There is some evidence to suggest that caloric restriction can have a positive effect on brain health. Research has shown that caloric restriction was able to improve memory performance in healthy elderly humans.[*] This is why resveratrol can play a role. That’s because resveratrol treatment can mimic caloric restriction, a strategy that has been found to exert several beneficial effects on the aging brain.
Resveratrol Brain Benefits and Overall Cognitive Health
Older adults who consume red wine (up to three glasses per day) on a regular basis reduced (up to 50 percent) the risk of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.[*][*] The research is premature, but it is promising—perhaps because of the fact that resveratrol readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and its activity in the brain lasts for up to four hours.[*] This blood-brain barrier, as you might imagine, is a sort of biological wall that prevents bad things from entering the brain (the flip side is that sometimes it’s difficult for good things to enter it).
How Resveratrol Works in the Brain
Resveratrol may reduce inflammation caused by beta-amyloid plaques and may even help clear them.[*][*] This is important because beta-amyloid proteins are one of the substances that are associated with degrading the health of neurons, which is linked to decreased brain function and memory-related conditions.[*] It does this by inhibiting a signaling protein that stimulates beta-amyloid peptides.[*] It’s important to note that beta amyloids normally plays a role in growth and repair in the brain but can become corrupt later in life.
Promise for Resveratrol in the Brain
Certainly, it’s difficult to discuss “brain health” in a general way. That’s because there are so many different things that can affect people. But early research is showing that resveratrol may have some influence in key areas.
Memory: Maintaining sharp thinking and memory are markers of aging well. Resveratrol has been shown to stimulate the growth and development of neurons and blood vessels in the hippocampus—the memory center of the brain.[*] The hippocampus, a region of the brain vital for functions such as learning, memory, and mood, is highly vulnerable to normal aging.[*] One study shows that resveratrol stimulated neurogenesis (growth and development of neurons) and blood vessel formation in the hippocampus of healthy old rats. The addition of new nervous tissue and blood vessels restructured the hippocampus, increasing spatial learning, memory formation, and mood function.[*] And the subjects showed significant increases in functional connectivity of the hippocampus to frontal, parietal, and occipital areas of the brain.[*]
Cognitive Function: In this animal study, resveratrol-treated lemurs performed significantly better on brain/cognitive tests than non-treated lemurs,[*] and the study showed that resveratrol supplementation stimulated various cognitive function. Another study showed that resveratrol in juvenile mice boosted cognitive function.[*]
Inflammation: Resveratrol has been shown to inhibit pro-inflammatory molecules.[*][*] This is important because the immune cells of the central nervous system (called microglial cells) can contribute to the death of neurons with inflammation.[*]
Blood Flow: While the research is still preliminary, it appears that resveratrol can help with blood flow in the brain, which is necessary for all kinds of brain-related tasks and overall brain health.[*]
Resveratrol offers a number of brain health benefits. And, ultimately, good brain health is what keeps us loving, laughing, functioning and enjoying life to the fullest.