A chemical compound in wine reduces levels of a harmful molecule linked to Alzheimer's disease. In a recent study, resveratrol--one of several antioxidants found in wine--helped human cells break down the molecule, which contributes to the lesions found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Fortunately for teetotalers, the compound is also found elsewhere.

"Resveratrol is a natural polyphenol occurring in abundance in several plants, including grapes, berries and peanuts," says author Philippe Marambaud of the Litwin-Zucker Research Center for the Study of Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders in Manhasset, N.Y. "The polyphenol is found in high concentrations in red wines."

The scientists found that 40 micromoles (a measure of the amount of resveratrol in a liter of solution) cut levels of the Alzheimer's-associated molecules--amyloid-beta peptides--by more than half. Treatment with proteasome-inhibitors nullified the benefit. The team thinks therefore that the substance works by boosting the effectiveness of the proteasome--a multi-protein complex that breaks down other proteins inside a cell. These findings will be published in the November 11 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The pinot noir grape apparently boasts the most dietary resveratrol, but that may not be enough to fend off Alzheimer's. "It is difficult to know whether the anti-amyloidogenic effect of resveratrol observed in cell culture systems can support the beneficial effect of specific diets," Marambaud explains. "Resveratrol in grapes may never reach the concentrations required to obtain the effect observed in our studies."

The researchers now hope to find similar, stronger compounds that can increase the effect even more and test them in mice. "We have already obtained analogues of resveratrol that are 20 times more potent than the original natural compound," Marambaud notes. In the meantime, a glass of red wine just might do the trick, or at least ease the fear of losing memory. It might even make for some nice ones.