Resveratrol, the substance in grapes and red wine, has been found by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) to lower blood sugar and improve insulin levels when injected into the brains of mice, lending weight to the benefits of red wine that this compound might offer a future treatment for type 2 diabetes.
You might remember news reports on resveratrol a few years ago when this substance was identified as most likely responsible for the benefits of red wine to the heart. Earlier this year, news program 60 Minutes ran a story that suggested resveratrol-based drugs might be used to slow the aging process.
But before you start downing gallons of red wine, experts warn this isn’t likely to improve blood sugar and insulin levels because the helpful compound doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier very well. “We don’t want to send the message that you can treat diabetes by drinking red wine,” explains lead researcher Roberto Coppari, Ph.D. an assistant professor of internal medicine at US Southwestern. “Two or three glasses a day wouldn’t be nearly enough for the brain to accumulate the amount of resveratrol delivered in our study. It would take many, many bottles, and clearly that wouldn’t be good for you.”
In earlier studies on mice, very high doses of this naturally produced molecule have been shown to protect against diabetes.
In this latest research, appearing in the December 2009 issue of the journal Endocrinology, Coppari and the team wanted to see what happens when resveratrol acts only on the brain.
They used two groups of diabetic mice, injecting a resveratrol compound directly into the brains of one group in hopes this would activate a set of proteins called sirtuins believed to be behind many of the helpful effects of restricting calories. These molecules have also shown anti-diabetic properties in earlier work on animals.
A control group of mice was given placebo injections of saline, and both groups were fed a very high fat diet all during the five week study.
The team found that the insulin levels in the resveratrol-injected mice dropped quite remarkably, going halfway to normal by the end of the study period. The insulin levels of the control mice kept going up during that same time. This is not the first study to find that resveratrol can have an impact on the consequences of eating a high fat diet.
The resveratrol shots were found to activate SIRT1 proteins in the brain, and this also helped to reduce brain inflammation related to the high calorie diets fed to the mice.
The findings suggest that the brain has a significant role in resveratrol’s benefits to diabetes, and that these benefits are likely there without regard to diet or body weight.
This gives hope to the idea that new treatments for type 2 diabetes that target the brain may be possible. “The brain appears to be a major player in diabetes,” Coppari points out. “The treatments we have for diabetes target other organs like the liver. The brain hasn’t really been on the map.”
If the current findings are confirmed by further research, the brain could become a focus of treatment not only for diabetes, but also for heart disease and obesity.