Monday, December 21, 2009

What’s red and white and fights the blues?

Although the holidays are a festive time of year, for some it can be depressing. Those with drinking problems have a particularly difficult time, and I cannot in good conscience recommend alcohol as a therapy for the seasonal blues. There is some intriguing evidence however that substances in wine can help fight depression.

Two studies from the same lab at the University of Santiago in Spain looked at the activity of the wine-derived compound resveratrol, and a cousin molecule called “trans-epsilon viniferin” (which is 2 resveratrol molecules linked together) on release of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This is the same molecule that many prescription antidepressants target, and with both wine substances the levels of serotonin were elevated in the same way. Another target of antidepressants called MAO inhibitors, were similarly found to have a parallel effect from the wine derivatives. A limiting factor is that these studies were in brain tissue from rats, so it is a big leap to conclude that it will have the same effect in humans. However, we do know that resveratrol gets into the brain and has other positive effects so it certainly merits further research.

Although resveratrol levels are generally higher in red wines, white wines may have a beneficial effect as well. A study done a few years ago at a French laboratory evaluated the effects of champagne consumption in a set of human subjects. Interestingly, they observed that people tend to either have high or low baseline serotonin levels. In those with low levels (who may be at higher risk for depression) the serotonin levels were increased by more than 50% after moderate consumption of the bubbly. They also observed increases in another neurotransmitter molecule called dopamine, which may also have salutary effects.

In any case, the evidence suggests that if you don’t have a problem with alcohol, you should consider getting in the mood for some wine this season. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday.

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