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Mar 30, 2015 08:43 PM EDT

Red Grapes, Wine May Help Ease Depression

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New research suggests that red grapes and wine can prevent inflammation as well as depression-related behaviors.

Researchers found that resveratrol, natural anti-inflammatory agent found in the skin of red grapes, blocked the increased inflammation in the brain and also prevented the depressive-like behaviors in animals that would have normally developed those behaviors.

"Our research is very relevant to today's society because it investigates potential treatments for people with an increased susceptibility to depression and related disorders that arise due to social stress," Susan K. Wood, assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and leader of the research team, said in a statement. "We hope our findings will encourage scientists who are running clinical trials to test the effectiveness of natural anti-inflammatory agents on depression, which is currently an understudied area."

In previous research, Wood's team developed an animal model for this type of social stress in which a larger, more aggressive rat takes on the role of a bully. Some rats exposed to the bullies developed both depressive-like behaviors and inflammation while the rats that did not develop depressive-like behaviors showed no inflammation.

In the recent study, researchers repeated their experiment with one key difference: the bullied rats were given a daily dose of resveratrol roughly equivalent to the amount found in six glasses of wine. They found that resveratrol blocked the increased inflammation in the brain and also prevented the depressive-like behaviors in animals that would have normally developed those behaviors.

"Resveratrol appears to knock down inflammation throughout the body," Julie Finnell, a doctoral student in the research team who will present the findings at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology 2015. "We found that administering resveratrol blocks the inflammation we would normally see in animals undergoing the bullying stress and brings it to control levels. We saw that consistently with IL-1ß [a pro-inflammatory protein] and many of the other inflammatory markers that we analyzed."

In addition to being naturally present in the skin of red grapes and in red wine, resveratrol is also sold as supplement. Studies have shown that the natural agent might be responsible for red wine's ability to prevent blood vessel damage and reduce LDL cholesterol, and experiments using high doses of resveratrol in animals have suggested it might help protect from obesity and diabetes.

Wood said the group's findings are exciting because they show that resveratrol has anti-inflammatory potential in the brain, not just on levels of inflammation circulating in the body. 

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