Past research has suggested that red wine and blueberries may reduce inflammation, prevent heart disease and even some types of cancer. The reason behind such benefits? A compound called resveratrol. And now, researchers from The Scripps Research Institute in Florida say they have discovered one way in which resveratrol has these beneficial effects on health.
The research team, led by Kendall Nettles, found that resveratrol blocks interleukin 6 (IL-6). This is a protein in the immune system that can trigger inflammation.
High levels of IL-6 have been associated with poor breast cancer patient survival, although exercise has been known to reduce IL-6 levels. Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that yoga may reduce inflammation by 20% in breast cancer survivors by reducing levels of IL-6.
In this latest study, published in the journal eLife, the team discovered that resveratrol blocks IL-6 by working with the body's estrogen receptor.
Estrogen can increase the growth of breast cancer tumors through receptors that reside on the surface of cancer cells.
But the researchers found that when resveratrol blocks IL-6, estrogenic cell proliferation - the reproduction of cancer-causing cells - is not activated. According to the team, this means that using resveratrol to target the estrogen receptor could lead to the development of new drugs.
Commenting on the findings, Nettles says:
"Estrogen has beneficial effects on conditions like diabetes and obesity but may increase cancer risk. What hasn't been well understood until now is that you can achieve those same beneficial effects with something like resveratrol.
Now that we understand that we can do this through the estrogen receptor, there might be compounds other than resveratrol out there that can do the same thing, only better."
The benefits and risks of resveratrol
Researchers found that a compound in red wine - resveratrol - blocks a pro-inflammation protein by working with the body's estrogen receptor.
Resveratrol is a key ingredient in red wine, which may explain why the beverage has been associated with many health benefits if consumed in moderation.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that red wine may protect against hearing loss and cognitive decline, while another study suggests red wine may slow the aging process.
But other research has indicated that resveratrol may do more harm than good. A 2013 study from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that the compounds may hinder the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Co-author of this study Lasse Gliemann says:
"We found that exercise training was highly effective in improving cardiovascular health parameters, but resveratrol supplementation attenuated the positive effects of training on several parameters, including blood pressure, plasma lipid concentrations and maximal oxygen uptake."
Furthermore, research from the Washington University School of Medicine in 2012 discovered that resveratrol supplements may not have metabolic benefits for healthy women.