Too much wine can blur your vision in the short term. But over the long haul? It could prevent blindness, thanks to resveratrol, an anti-aging compound found in red wine. And that's just the beginning of its benefits.
One of the main causes of blindness, particularly for older patients, is uncontrollable blood vessel growth in the eyes, a process called angiogenesis. (Angiogenesis can also cause certain cancers, heart attacks, and strokes, so it's about as serious as conditions get.) In the eyes, angiogenesis is a key part of blindness-inducing diseases like diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, the latter of which is the most common cause of blindness for patients fifty years and older.
Retina specialist Rajendra S. Apte of Washington University in St. Louis is the senior investigator of a new study that charts the effects of resveratrol on mice suffering from angiogenesis. He explains:
"A great deal of research has identified resveratrol as an anti-aging compound, and given our interest in age-related eye disease, we wanted to find out whether there was a link. There were reports on resveratrol's effects on blood vessels in other parts of the body, but there was no evidence that it had any effects within the eye."
In the study, mice were given laser treatment that caused abnormal blood vessel growth in their eyes. When given resveratrol, the condition subsided and the vessels started to disappear. They were then able to study the blood vessel cells and find the particular pathway that caused the compound's beneficial effects. They discovered it was a pathway known as the eukaryotic elongation factor-2 kinase (eEF2) regulated pathway, which isn't the same pathway found to be responsible for resveratrol's anti-aging effects in earlier studies.
According to Apte, this could signify a breakthrough, particularly because resveratrol was found both to prevent the formation of new blood vessels and to eradicate existing buildups:
"We have identified a novel pathway that could become a new target for therapies. And we believe the pathway may be involved both in age-related eye disease and in other diseases where angiogenesis plays a destructive role. This could potentially be a preventive therapy in high-risk patients. And because it worked on existing, abnormal blood vessels in the animals, it may be a therapy that can be started after angiogenesis already is causing damage."
Resveratrol is found in red wine as well as grapes, peanuts, blueberries, and other plants. But don't break out the boxes of wine just yet - Apte cautions that in order to replicate the effects seen in the mice, a person would need to drink dangerously high quantities of red wine to get the same dosage of resveratrol. If the compound is going to be effective in treatment, it probably would have to be given in pill form, although that doesn't rule out the possibility that moderate quantities of wine could still provide anti-blindness benefits over time.
There are other caveats to the study. The type of macular degeneration the mice experienced isn't precisely analogous to that of humans, so it's not necessarily a given that this treatment will also work for people. Still, Apte is optimistic that these results can indeed be applied to humans, and not just to the eyes. Since angiogenesis is a wide-ranging health risk, finding a way to prevent it in one instance could help in other areas, potentially helping to prevent the onset of heart disease and certain cancers.