Wine Consumption May Play a Protective Role in Neurodegenerative Disease

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Essential tremor is a neurological syndrome, which results in involuntary shaking, usually noticed most in the hands.  This type of tremor is the most common, with a prevalence of about 0.9%,  and occurs more frequently past the age of 65, when the prevalence rises to about 4.6%.  The exact cause of essential tremor is unknown, though it could be caused by problems with the nerves that control particular muscles.  Essential tremor alone is more of an inconvenience than a serious health threat; however, it has also been known to occur along with other neurological disorders, such as dystonia, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological conditions that can lead to more serious health concerns.

Genetic factors may play a role in whether or not an individual displays essential tremor, or a more serious neurological disease such as Parkinson’s, though it is likely that environmental factors may play a role as well.  Studies have shown conflicting results in regards to protective effects of various environmental stimuli on essential tremor symptoms, with some showing protective effects of cigarette smoking and caffeine intake, while others showing just the opposite. 

The study presented today, though brief in length, aimed to address the question of whether or not these environmental stimuli have any effect on the symptoms of essential tremor.  Published in the journal Movement Disorders earlier this spring, this study evaluated the role of cigarette smoking, coffee consumption, and alcohol consumption (specifically, wine drinking) on essential tremor in adults.

Methods

Study Subjects

The individuals enrolled in this study were patients from six Movement Disorder centers in central-southern Italy (Bari, Catania, Catanzaro, Grosseto, Messina, and Naples).  Those diagnosed with essential tremor were eligible for this study.  Three unrelated healthy controls (not affected by any neurological disease) for each essential tremor subject were also enrolled.  Controls were matched to essential tremor individuals by age and sex.  Most of these controls were recruited from the spouses of those with essential tremor, or those who accompanied the essential tremor patient at the clinic.  All participants, those in both the control and essential tremor groups, underwent a standard neurological examination.

Interviews/Questionnaires

All study participants underwent a face-to-face interview and completed a standardized structured questionnaire.¬† The questionnaire was broken down into different sections, including a section for demographics, one for clinical information regarding essential tremor and other neurological diseases, and one for environmental factors such as smoking, drinking coffee, and drinking alcohol.¬† For the cigarette smoking factor, questions involved how many cigarettes smoked per day, and the number of years smoked.¬† For the coffee consumption factor, questions involved the duration and the number of cups consumed per day.¬† Finally, for the alcohol consumption factor, questions involved the duration and the type of alcohol consumed, and whether they could be classified as ‚Äúnever drinkers‚ÄĚ, ‚Äúoccasional drinkers‚ÄĚ, or ‚Äúregular drinkers‚ÄĚ (current or quit).

Results

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† 83 essential tremor patients participated in this study.

o   38 were men and 45 were women, with a mean age of 68.2 +/- 8.6 years.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† 245 matched controls participated in this study.

o   113 were men and 132 were women, with a mean age of 68.4 +/- 9.7 years.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† The mean age at the onset of essential tremor was 53.2 +/- 17.9 years, with mean disease duration of 12.6 +/- 13.2 years.
  • ¬† ¬† ¬† 48.1% of essential tremor patients reported a positive family history of the disease.
  • ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†Cigarette smoking and coffee consumption were not associated with essential tremor.
  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Due to the low numbers of regular beer drinkers (0 essential tremor patients, only 6 controls) and regular liquor drinkers (only 2 essential tremor patients and 3 controls), only wine consumption was considered and analyzed (26.8% of essential tremor patients and 38.8% of controls).
  • ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†There was a highly significant negative association between wine drinking and essential tremor (i.e., drink more wine, experience fewer tremors).

o   This association became even stronger after controlling for family history of essential tremor.

o   There was a significant decreasing risk of essential tremor with increasing number of glasses of wine per day, with a greater risk reduction (of about 86%) for patients consuming more than 3 glasses per day.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Wine consumption preceded the onset of disease (in all cases): the mean duration of wine consumption was 48.9 +/- 12.3 years, and the mean disease duration was 12.8 +/- 13.2 years.¬†

o   86.4% of the essential tremor patients stated wine consumption started more than 30 years before the onset of disease (and none had quit drinking).

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† 90% of the subjects that were categorized as regular drinkers consumed up to 4 glasses per day (considers light to moderate consumption).

Discussion and Conclusions

Unlike some studies, this study found that cigarette smoking did not show protective or damaging effects against essential tremor.  Similarly, coffee consumption also showed no effect on essential tremor symptoms.  Interestingly, however, was that wine consumption had a highly significant negative association with essential tremor.  Basically, the more wine one consumes, the less severe the symptoms of essential tremor are exhibited.  Of course, there wasn’t enough information/data in this study to rule out the possibility of too much alcohol consumption, which in other systems have shown possible harmful effects of drinking too much, regardless of whether or not the same substance shows protective effects in more moderate amounts.

Many other studies have found that resveratrol, along with many other polyphenols, have protective cardiovascular characteristics, as well as antioxidant activities in consumers of red wine.  The latter characteristic could potentially be involved in this reduction of essential tremor in wine consuming patients.  In many neurodegenerative diseases, not unlike Parkinson’s, it has been shown that there is an excess of reactive oxygen species present in the brain.  Polyphenols in red wine (i.e., resveratrol) may act in an antioxidative manner to reduce the amounts of free radical oxygen species in the brain, thus reducing the symptoms of the disease.  Prolonged exposure to red wine could create a more oxygen-stable environment in the brain, thus potentially delaying the onset of neurological disease, or at the very least reducing the symptoms.

Though these types of studies sometimes produce results that are slightly bias, the high level of significance in this particular study and the extreme length of time from the onset of wine consumption to the onset of essential tremor indicate that the results of this study show promise to those affected by this neurological disease.  Of course, more detailed studies would need to be done, but the initial research here is hopeful.  I would like to see a study that is able to include all types of alcohol, to get a better sense of whether it is the alcohol itself playing a protective role, or if it is in fact the polyphenols in red wine that are giving these protective results.  I would also like to see a study that includes essential tremor patients, in addition to patients experiencing various stages of Parkinson’s disease.  If red wine helps with essential tremor, could it help alleviate some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as well?  I’ll be keeping my eye out…

How about you all?  Do you have any experience with essential tremor or other neurological diseases?  Have you noticed if red wine consumption helps with your symptoms? 

Please feel free to leave any comments below!

Source:  10.1002/mds.23603
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!

2 comments for “Wine Consumption May Play a Protective Role in Neurodegenerative Disease

  1. WineKnurd
    September 26, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Hey Rebecca, not sure if the study focused on any other aspects of overall diet, as certainly wine consumption is an important part, but not the entire story. Maybe wine on its own is not enough, but wine with a vegetarian diet (for example) might enhance the anti-oxidant properties of polyphenols to an effective symptom reducing level. I feel like there is a synergistic effect going on, much like the high fat diet / low health risk French Paradox (even though there is no direct evidence).

  2. September 26, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Hey there! Scanning through the methods of the original article, it's not clear whether or not they controlled for diet type. I have to assume they did not, in which case, there is likely a huge bit of variation that would need to be controlled for. I agree with your thinking that there is possibly a synergistic effect going on, and it'd be interesting to see what type of diet in which the participants in the study partake. It was a relatively basic study, one in which is ideal to build upon. Hopefully they next study on the subject will address such variables as diet and whatnot.

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