Compound in Red Wine May Boost Lung Health

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Resveratrol — a chemical compound found in red wine, pistachios and other foods — has shown to improve lung functioning in mice and may hold the key to future respiratory treatments.

Researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles studied the effects of inhaled resveratrol treatments on mice and found that the chemical compound slowed aging-related decline in the animals’ lungs.

“We believe that ours is the first study to demonstrate a beneficial effect of lung-directed resveratrol treatments on aging lung function,” said lead author Dr. Barbara Driscoll.

Credit: Tobias Toft/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Resveratrol, an antimicrobial chemical compound produced by plants, is found in grapes and red wine, as well as other common food items, such as peanuts, cranberries, pistachios and blueberries. Previous research has shown that resveratrol can improve cardiovascular health, improve blood-sugar levels and even prevent cancer.

The new study tackles a symptom of aging — decreased lung function — as well as a health challenge affecting many preterm births.

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“While the natural deterioration of the human lung generally occurs over decades, the injury to lung cells is analogous to the lung cell damage that occurs in premature infants who experience respiratory distress before their lungs have fully developed,” said Driscoll. “Identifying a way to protect and strengthen young lungs before significant damage occurs is the goal of our research.”

The researchers found that the direct administration of resveratrol to the lungs can improve cell health and essentially reverse the deterioration of lung functioning that occurs over time.

Slowing the Aging Process in the Lungs

To assess the potential effectiveness of resveratrol, the researchers administered inhaled, prophylactic resveratrol treatments to rapidly aging mice over a three-month period, according to the study appearing in the journal Thorax.

After a month of treatment, the researchers found a significant improvement among the alveolar epithelial type 2 cells in the lungs of the mice. These cells, which line the alveoli, or tiny sacs within the lung, are vital to healthy lung functioning.

Specifically, the researchers found that the inhaled resveratrol treatment slowed damage to the DNA within the alveolar epithelial type 2 cells, which normally occurs with aging. The treatment also decreased alveolar enlargement and ultimately put the brakes on lung decline.

This illustration depicts healthy lungs (top) vs. lungs with COPD (bottom). Credit: NIH/Wikimedia Commons

As aging occurs, lung decline becomes an irreversible condition without treatment. While some treatments can improve lung functioning in patients with chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), they can’t reverse damage to the lung cells.

The researchers note that aging-related lung decline is linked to poor quality of life and can lead to further disease risk and even death.

Touted as an anti-aging compound, resveratrol has come under considerable scientific study in recent years. Previous research has found that resveratrol can inhibit the growth of cancer cells and also limit inflammation. As it occurs naturally, plants use resveratrol to fend off bacteria and “other microbial attackers,” according to Harvard Health.

Want to add some resveratrol to your diet? “Eating red grapes, blueberries, and pistachios, or having a glass of your favorite red wine, are pleasurable ways to take in resveratrol. Plus you get all the other healthful plant products that come with the resveratrol,” says the Harvard review.

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Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.