For people who can enjoy a glass of red wine in the evening, a new study suggests that a particular plant compound found in red wine can help with depression and anxiety. The polyphenol, resveratrol, has long been cited as the reason that red wine is thought to be good for heart health. Now, a study published in the journal Neuropharmacology suggests that resveratrol might also make red wine helpful in reducing depression and anxiety.
The study focused on the effects of resveratrol in mice, following up on previous research conducted in vitro (in a petri dish or test tube, as compared to living bodies). The conclusion of this research was that resveratrol may have protective effects against corticosterone. Corticosterone is a stress hormone, excessive levels of which have been have been linked to depression and anxiety.
However, resveratrol is only one of the compounds found in red wine, and as a whole, alcohol is a depressant within the body’s central nervous system (CNS). While CNS depressants don’t necessarily make individuals feel sad or depressed in the moment, the depression or slowing down of CNS functions can ultimately lead to lethargy, muscle weakness, agitation, and altered judgment.
In addition, according to a 2015 review of 15 years’ worth of published research on alcohol’s interactions with the CNS, drinking alcohol can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and lead to attention deficits (including blackouts often associated with heavy drinking). Depressing the CNS can feel good in the short term: the euphoria, altered judgment, and slurred speech that accompany a depressed CNS are all common experiences of people having a night out. However, because the CNS is a system that requires delicate balance, heavy and sustained use of alcohol can depress the CNS in a more permanent manner that can ultimately lead to long-term memory problems and depress the body’s immune functions. Many of these short-term and long-term experiences of a depressed CNS, including the disruption of the sleep-wake cycle, altered judgment, lethargy, agitation and muscle weakness, are commonly associated with feelings that accompany depression.
Associating red wine with anti-depression and anxiety is therefore a complex matter. While resveratrol has indeed been shown by this Neuropharmacology study to lower the levels of a stress hormone associated with depression and anxiety, the larger picture of alcohol consumption must also be considered. And this isn’t the first time a similar issue has arisen regarding resveratrol in red wine.
For quite some time, popular science knowledge has suggested that red wine is good for heart health. According to the Mayo Clinic, this may be because red wine contains antioxidants called polyphenols that may help protect your heart’s blood vessel lining. Resveratrol is one of those polyphenols. Yet according to a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, people whose diets are naturally rich in resveratol don’t have lower risks of heart disease or cancer than others.
Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, an internist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, suggested in Harvard Health that it would be helpful to contextualize claims of resveratrol’s heart healthiness alongside other lifestyle factors and impacts of alcohol use. “In many cases,” he said, “it’s difficult to tease out the effect of drinking patterns from specific types of alcoholic beverages.” Similarly, it might be prudent to rejoice that your red wine’s resveratrol has some anti-depression and anti-anxiety effect, but placing that in the larger context of alcohol’s overall affects on your CNS might also be worth the consideration.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.