Most people who are familiar with actor Michael J. Fox are aware by now that he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, especially since he continues to play a major role advocating and supporting research for ways to prevent, treat, and someday even cure the debilitating illness. A chronic condition that most often affects people over age 60, it can sometimes occur (as in the case with Fox) in much younger adults. In Parkinson’s disease the neurons that produce dopamine in the brain are progressively destroyed. The disease may be difficult to diagnose early on since there is currently no blood or other diagnostic test for it and symptoms can vary. However, typical symptoms can include muscle stiffness, tremors, problems maintaining physical balance and coordination, less facial expression, drooling, loss of memory, dementia, mood disorders, speech problems, impaired sense of smell, and slow movement.117
One of the areas of research involves compounds that can help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease by helping to maintain and protect brain cells.117 Resveratrol’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may be useful in counteracting degenerative factors that contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown that damage from free radicals and toxins lead to inflammation and cell dysfunction, all contributing to the degeneration of these neurons.81
In addition, resveratrol may be helpful in improving outcomes with currently used treatments, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS)—a surgical procedure used for patients in advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease where an electrode is implanted in the brain.118 The device emits small electrical pulses, stimulating areas of the brain and counteracting some of the abnormal signaling from disease-damaged neurons.117
Evidence of Benefit
Laboratory research indicates that treating dopaminergic neurons with resveratrol prior to exposure to a toxin known to cause Parkinson’s disease protected them from cell death. The protective effect appeared to be a result of resveratrol helping to regulate expression of genes that control cell cycle death.119
Both lab and animal studies indicate that resveratrol protects neurons from toxins, free radicals, and stroke injury.120 In one study involving an animal model of Parkinson’s disease induced by the free radical hydrogen peroxide and the neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (which also produces free radicals), resveratrol was tested to determine its potential benefits.81 Results showed resveratrol significantly inhibited levels of two types of inflammatory proteins in the area of the brain where neuron damage occurs in Parkinson’s.81
A recently conducted animal study at Hope University demonstrated that resveratrol protected the brain cells from dying around the area electrodes are implanted during DBS surgery. Those animals implanted with capsules containing resveratrol exhibited far less movement and coordination problems than those implanted with control substances. Microscopic examination of brain tissue showed that the resveratrol protected against scar tissue formation in the brain as well as preventing the neuron cell death and degenerative changes that occurred in the control group.118
The ability of resveratrol to protect against a number of motor skill impairments associated with Parkinson’s disease was also documented in a controlled animal study. The group of mice pre-treated prior to injection with a toxin known to cause Parkinson’s performed significantly better to the non-resveratrol treated group of mice with Parkinson’s in functional areas typically affected by the disease. These include activities representative of balance, coordination, and speed of movement. High levels of inflammatory proteins and free radicals, dysfunctional cell activity, and severely reduced dopamine levels were all found in the rats with Parkinson’s disease not treated with resveratrol. In comparison, the resveratrol-treated group experienced much better outcomes in terms of these markers in addition to restored dopamine levels and improved motor function.120
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The neurotransmitter responsible for signals that control movement.
Neurons that produce dopamine.