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COULD A LITTLE red wine help lift one’s spirits? Serious depression, or major depressive disorder, is the leading cause of disability in Americans ages 15 to 44, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While excessive alcohol consumption is considered a symptom or coping mechanism for depression, a new study strengthens previous evidence that moderate wine consumption may actually decrease the risk of this mood disorder. A team led by Dr. Susan Wood at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine found that the red wine polyphenol resveratrol may reduce inflammation of the brain caused by stress and mitigate depression-related behaviors in the process.

Individually, the root of depression varies, but many cases stem from social stress, or stress spurred by interactions with other people – such as experiences with bullying or the loss of a loved one. These scenarios cause inflammation, especially in the brain, may be the link between social stress and depression. Resveratrol is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and research has found evidence that the compound reduces it in the body. The researchers hypothesized that resveratrol could also prohibit neuroinflammation, or inflammation in the brain, and thus prevent ensuing depressive-like behaviors.

In previous studies, Dr. Wood’s team created an animal model to test the effects of social stress by exposing rats to larger, more aggressive “bully” rats. Some of the test animals developed both depressive-like behaviors and inflammation. In the new study the researchers replicated the experiment, but added resveratrol to the equation. Throughout the trial, the bullied rats were given a daily dose of resveratrol equivalent to the level found in 6 glasses of wine. The rats that had previously experienced neuroinflammation and depressive behaviors did not develop either issue this time.