Can Resveratrol Improve Memory Performance In The Elderly ?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Health Current Events, Healthy Lifestyle, Supplements and Health

red wine benefitsWill Red Wine Make You Smarter?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

It seems like every other day a new headline pops up telling us of yet another nutrient that might improve memory and slow cognitive decline. Perhaps it’s because we having a greying population. Lots of Americans are looking for that magic pill that will allow us to remember where we left the car keys.

This week the banner headlines were about resveratrol, a polyphenol from red wine. The headlines suggested that resveratrol could improve memory performance in healthy older adults. Are those headlines true, and what does that information mean for you?

What is Resveratrol?

Resveratrol is a member of a very large class of compounds called polyphenols that are found in red wine, green tea, and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols are very diverse structurally, but most of them are excellent antioxidants. They are one of the reasons that we are constantly being told to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

However, resvertrol and a few structurally similar polyphenols are unique in that they also bind to proteins called sirtuins which regulate metabolic processes related to the aging process. In fact, resveratrol garnered a lot of attention a few years ago when Dr. David Sinclair at Harvard Medical School published a study showing that obese mice given resveratrol escaped many of the metabolic consequences of obesity and actually lived longer than mice who were not given resveratrol.

In animal studies resveratrol appears to improve insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial function, lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and reduce inflammation and oxidative damage. Human studies have been limited to date, but suggest that resveratrol may impart many of these metabolic benefits to humans as well.

A recent study showed that resveratrol improved memory performance in grey mouse lemurs, a non-human primate species. However, no one had previously looked at whether resveratrol might improve memory in humans.

Can Resveratrol Improve Memory In Healthy Older Adults?

improve memoryIn this study (A. V. Witte et al, The Journal of Neuroscience, 34: 7862-7870, 2014) investigators recruited 46 older (average age 64), overweight (BMI 25-30), adults from Berlin, Germany. All of the subjects were healthy and none of them had any sign of cognitive impairment. For a six month period half of them were given 100 mg of resveratrol twice a day, and half of them were given a placebo (sunflower oil).

At the beginning of the test period they were given a memory test which measures how many of 15 listed words they could recall 30 minutes later. They also underwent a MRI scan that measured brain volume and functional connectivity of the hippocampus, a key region implicated in memory function. Finally, hemoglobin A1c, a measure of long term blood sugar control was measured.

Here are the results:

  • There was a significant effect of resveratrol on retention of words over 30 minutes compared to placebo. Memory improved significantly in the resveratrol group, while it declined slightly in the placebo group.
  • There was no effect of resveratrol on brain volume compared to the placebo (most interventions showing significant effects on brain volume required 2-3 years to demonstrate a significant effect).
  • Subjects in the resveratrol group showed significant increases in functional connectivity of the hippocampus to other brain regions involved learning and memory compared to the placebo group.
  • Subjects in the resveratrol group had lower hemoglobin A1c (better long term blood sugar control) compared to the placebo group.
  • When they statistically evaluated individual patients, the degree of improvement in the word memory test correlated with the increase in functional connectivity of the hippocampus and both of those measures correlated with decreased hemoglobin A1c.

What Does This Study Mean?

This study is promising in that it is well done and is consistent with previous animal studies. However, we need to keep in mind that this is the very first study of this kind. Similar to most first studies, it is small (only 46 subjects) and short in duration (6 months). It also only tested one dose of resveratrol (200 mg/day).

Now that this study has shown that resveratrol might improve memory in healthy older adults, it provides a strong rationale for more clinical studies to test this hypothesis. There is a need for larger, longer term studies in other population groups. Future studies should also evaluate different doses of resveratrol so that we know how much is needed to positively impact mental function.

Can resveratrol improve memory?

The Bottom Line:

  • A recent study suggests that resveratrol, a polyphenol from red wine, improves memory (measured by a word recall test) and functional connectivity of the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory function.
  • This is the very first study of its kind. It was small (46 subjects) and short (6 months). However, it was well designed and consistent with previous animal results. Thus, it should be considered preliminary, but promising. More studies are clearly needed to test this hypothesis.
  • If the results of this study are substantiated, it will not necessary mean that other polyphenols will exert similar effects on memory. The action mechanism of resveratrol is different than most other polyphenols.
  • It also does not necessarily mean that red wine will make you smarter. The 100 glasses of red wine a day that you would need to drink to get the amount of resveratrol used in this study would probably kill more brain cells than the resveratrol could help.
  • Finally, as I said in a recent “Health Tips From the Professor” , there are no “magic bullets” when it comes to preventing cognitive decline. Your chances of reducing cognitive decline are best with a holistic approach that includes healthy diet, exercise, socialization, mental exercises, maintaining a healthy weight, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. If this study is confirmed by future studies, you may be able to add resveratrol supplements to the list.


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

One of the Little known Causes of Headaches

Posted August 15, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Your Headaches!

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney


Can sleeping position be one of the causes of headaches?  

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

causes of headachesYour spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go to every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shortened to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical vertebrae tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and the Causes of  Headaches

sleep left side

The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.  For example, if you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick, your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping in car and desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk can also horizontal line sleepcause headaches. The pictures above show a strain on the neck when you fall asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.


sleeping on stomachSleeping on Your Back & Stomach

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.


Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

sleeping position causes of headachesAll of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief.

Take either a tennis ball or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your cervical vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly


About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.