Red wine ingredient may ease depression, but drinking it is risky

Multiple studies over the past several years have found links between resveratrol, a phenol found in grape skin, and a decrease in depression, among other potential health benefits. The latest study among this body of work comes from the University of Buffalo, where researchers identified how resveratrol influences experiences of depression and anxiety. The key to this beneficial effect may be the blocking of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4).

Resveratrol and depression

Phosphodiesterase 4 is influenced by corticosterone, a stress hormone that regulates the body's response to life's various stressors. Though beneficial, someone who is experiencing chronic stress may end up with too much of this hormone circulating in their brain; too much stress also often leads to the development of anxiety and depression.

A number of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications exist but aren't effective for around one-third of sufferers. A vast amount of research has focused on unraveling the cause of these two common mental disorders, but the development of broadly effective treatments with low side effects has remained elusive.

The answer may lie in resveratrol, the new study has found. This compound was found to be neuroprotective by inhibiting the expression of PDE4, which increases when there's too much corticosterone. PDE4 was found to trigger anxiety- and depression-like behaviors in mice, lower cyclic adenosine monophosphate in the body, and ultimately lead to physical changes in the brain.

Red wine isn't the answer

Because resveratrol is primarily found in the skin of grapes, the compound can be found in relatively high quantities in red wine. The study indicates that consuming resveratrol may help individuals who are experiencing chronic stress by inhibiting PDE4, but regularly consuming red wine isn't the answer.

Red wine contains alcohol, of course, and alcohol comes with risks that may offset whatever benefits someone would get from the resveratrol. In addition to the risk of dependency, particularly among depressed and anxious individuals who turn to the beverage for relief, alcohol consumption has been linked to various health risks.

Joining its potentially negative effects on the liver, pancreas, and heart, alcohol has a profound effect on the brain and the balance of chemicals in it. Frequently consuming alcohol can worsen depression and anxiety in sufferers, problems that become much harder to solve if addiction forms.

Rather than drinking red wine, individuals can consume resveratrol by eating the grapes from which red wine is made, as well as other foods that contain the phenol, including cranberries, cocoa, peanuts, pistachios, and dark chocolate.

Resveratrol is also sold over-the-counter as an isolated supplement, but it's unclear whether consuming it in this manner will offer the same health benefits. Individuals should consult with their doctors before consuming the phenol as a supplement.