Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative central nervous system disorder. The cause of the disease is unknown, although genetic mutations and environmental triggers may be factors. In addition, those afflicted with the disease have specific changes in the brain. Studies of resveratrol, a chemical found in both red wine and the skin of grapes, suggest that the chemical may lessen the brain damage caused by Parkinson’s disease. These studies have stoked interest in the potential to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, for which there is no cure, and slow the progression of the disease with red wine.
Symptoms and Brain Changes
Parkinson’s symptoms vary among patients: They include tremors, walking difficulty, speech problems and the absence of facial expressions. Other symptoms are the loss of automatic and unconscious movements, such as smiling and blinking, limited range of motion and muscle rigidity. The disease eventually causes loss of mobility, memory loss and, for some people, dementia. Treatment involves management of symptoms with medication, lifestyle changes, physical therapy and surgery. Scientists attribute Parkinson’s symptoms to the brain changes seen in people with the disease: Low dopamine levels result from damaged dopamine-producing cells. Damaged nerve endings cause low levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps regulate the autonomic nervous system. Protein clumps called Lewy bodies form in the brain. Scientists, however, do not know how the clumps are formed or how they influence Parkinson’s symptoms.
Resveratrol is the chemical in red wine that shows promise in the management of Parkinson’s symptoms. Large amounts of resveratrol are produced in the skin of grapes. Red grapes contain more resveratrol than other food sources, and red wine contains more resveratrol than white wine. However, 8 ounces of red wine contain only 1 to 2 milligrams of resveratrol. In a statement about a 2008 resveratrol and Parkinson’s study, Dr. Stephen Taylor of the University of Queensland notes that most resveratrol in red wine is inactivated in the body’s liver or gut before it reaches the blood stream. Taylor suggests that effective absorption of resveratrol by drinking red wine may be possible with more deliberate control of the drinking process, such as sipping slowly and holding wine in the mouth for longer periods.
A 2008 study published in the “European Journal of Pharmacology” reports that resveratrol protected cells and nerves and significantly reduced brain damage in Parkinson’s-afflicted rats after as little as two weeks of treatment. A 2010 study published in “Brain Research” reports improved motor coordination and performance of stepping tasks following pretreatment with resveratrol. The study also noted reduced depletion of dopamine and decreased brain damage. A 2011 study conducted and published by Hope College concluded that resveratrol protects against cell damage caused by tubes inserted in the brain for use in deep brain stimulation, or DBS, treatment. Cell damage makes DBS treatments less effective over time.
Parkinson’s disease patients should speak to a doctor before drinking red wine or taking resveratrol as a supplement. Red wine interacts dangerously with high doses of the medications known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MOA-B inhibitors, used in Parkinson’s disease treatment. Doctors prescribe low doses of MOA-B inhibitors, which include rasagiline and selegiline, to prevent the breakdown of dopamine in Parkinson’s patients. Mixing red wine with MOA-B doses higher than the low levels used in Parkinson’s treatment can cause severe headache and possible fatal high blood pressure.