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Drinking Wine May Help to Minimize Stroke Damage

They can happen in a matter of seconds, but can incapacitate people for the rest of their lives. Strokes are sudden, quick and, in many cases, permanent. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia's School of Medicine believe that help may be as close as the local grocery store's produce section.

"For years, scientists have advocated drinking a glass of red wine once or twice a day to help with cardiovascular health," said Grace Sun, a professor of biochemistry and part of a husband-wife research team at MU. "Our research has shown that a compound in red wine or grapes can have a similar impact on brain health, and in some cases, may help minimize the damage to the brain when a stroke occurs."

When a stroke happens due to a blockage of blood flow to the brain, no oxygen or nutrients can enter the affected region of the brain. Soon after, neurons in the affected area of the brain begin to release excitatory amino acid neurotransmitters that encourage calcium to move into the neurons. This calcium influx generates "reactive oxygen species," or "free radicals," that can be very damaging. Studies with animal models indicate that the influx of calcium and generation of free radicals can result in delayed cell death, a process that occurs over the next few days.

However, Sun, and her husband, Albert Sun, a professor of pharmacology at MU, discovered that resveratrol, a compound found in grapes, can absorb the free radicals and stop them from doing any further damage to the brain or individual cells. While some damage to neurons is still sustained, the researchers found a remarkable difference between brain cells that had been treated with resveratrol and those that had not.

"In the study with the animal model, the compound was helpful if taken both before and after a stroke," Grace Sun said. "We are continuing to search for compounds in our everyday diet that have lasting impacts on our health. This is just one example."

Red wine contains high amounts of resveratrol, but it is also found in enriched grape skins. The husband and wife team are part of the MU Center for Phytonutrient and Phytochemical Studies directed by Dennis Lubahn, an associate professor of biochemistry. The Center conducts research on botanical compounds and their effects on human health.

This research on resveratrol was published in the Journal of Brain Research and was funded by a $5.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

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