BU.edu – Regular consumption of red wine polyphenols throughout life helps to prevent the decline in vascular health and exercise capacity that comes with aging, according to a recent animal study.

The endothelium is the inner lining of our blood vessels. The normal functions of endothelial cells include enabling coagulation, platelet adhesion and immune function. Endothelial dysfunction is associated with reduced anticoagulant properties and the inability of arteries and arterioles to dilate fully.

The gradual decrease in endothelial function over time is a key factor in the development of diseases associated with aging, especially cardiovascular disease (CVD). Many epidemiologic studies suggest a protective effect against CVD from moderate intake of alcoholic beverages, especially those rich in natural antioxidants, such as red wine, which is high in polyphenols (RWPs).

This study examined whether intake of red wine polyphenols (RWPs) prevents aging-related impairment of vascular function and physical exercise capacity. Vascular reactivity from 12, 20 and 40 week-old rats was assessed in organ chambers. Rats received from week 16 to 40 either a solvent, or the RWPs, or the antioxidant and NADPH oxidase inhibitor, apocynin. Red wine polyphenols and apocynin improved the endothelial dysfunction, normalized oxidative stress and the expression of different proteins related to vascular health. RWPs also improved ageing-related decline in physical exercise. Thus, intake of RWPs protects against aging-induced endothelial dysfunction and decline in physical performance. These effects likely involve the ability of RWPs to normalize oxidative stress and the expression of proteins involved in the formation of NO (nitric oxide) and the angiotensin II pathway.

Members of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research thought that this was an excellent paper, as it begins to delve into mechanisms by which polyphenols improve health. A mechanism is addressed and results are consistent with the working hypothesis of a specific interaction between polyphenols and particular cellular enzymes. There is a satisfying agreement between basic mechanisms and pathophysiology. Some scientists believe that interventions to improve endothelial function (such as the consumption of red wine or other sources of polyphenols) should begin earlier in life to slow down the endothelial dysfunction that occurs with aging. This study in rats tends to support such a belief.

The present study found that the administration of red wine polyphenols protected against aging-induced endothelial dysfunction. As stated by the authors: “The present findings indicate that regular intake of RWPs in the drinking water starting at young age (16 week-old) prevented the ageing-related endothelial dysfunction most likely by reducing the excessive oxidative stress in the arterial wall.” They suggest an important role of NADPH oxidase and possibly also the angiotensin system in the abnormal vascular response in aging. Their study showed that, “RWPs intake had also a physiological beneficial effect since it improved the physical exercise capacity of old rats.”

Reference: Dal-Ros S, et al. Chronic intake of red wine polyphenols by young rats prevents ageing-induced endothelial dysfunction and decline in physical performance: Role of NADPH oxidase. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2011;404:743-749.