What red grapes can teach us about IBS

January 28, 2019

The skin of red grapes contains a compound known as trans-Resveratrol, which has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and anti-oxidant properties.  Between these properties and research studies showing that trans-Resveratrol has a positive effect on the gut and on mental health, trans-Resveratrol might affect the gut-brain axis.  Scientists set out to find out!

Dr. Ying-Cong Yu’s latest research studied mice with symptoms similar to what people experience with stress-induced IBS: depression, anxiety, abnormal intestinal motility, and visceral hypersensitivity.  The mice were given trans-Resveratrol, desipramine, diazepam, or rolipram treatments for three weeks.   Then, their level of depression and anxiety was assessed along with intestinal motility and visceral sensitivity (pain felt from the organs).  Desipramine is an anti-depressant.  Diazepam is an anxiolytic, meaning that it reduces anxiety.  Rolipram inhibits the PDE4 gene, which may be a part of the gut-brain axis.

It turns out that all four compounds reduce the level of emotional and intestinal distress!  Some of the results were expected.  Desipramine and diazepam were expected to have a positive effect on the emotional state.  Rolipram was expected to have a positive effect on the gut.  The effect of trans-Resveratrol on the gut was a happy surprise.  Mice that received trans-Resveratrol treatments had improved intestinal motility and reduced visceral sensitivity at the end of the study.  Combined with previous findings that trans-Resveratrol reduces depression and anxiety, it is likely that trans-Resveratrol affects the gut-brain axis.

The gut-brain axis is the bidirectional communication that occurs between the central nervous system and the enteric, or intestinal, nervous system.  The gut-brain axis is complex, but we are starting to understand how it works.  One component is the protein PDE4A.  PDE4A is expressed in both the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system.  PDE4A increases in the brain and intestine under chronic stress.  In Dr. Yu’s recent study, researchers found that trans-Resveratrol treatment decreased PDE4A in both the brain and intestine in the mice with stress induced IBS.  This means that trans-Resveratrol may be affecting the gut-brain axis in a positive way.

There is still more work to learn about the gut-brain axis and the role trans-Resveratrol could play as a possible treatment for patients with IBS.  This latest study is encouraging and opens the door for more research.  We need to know how long it takes for trans-Resveratrol to start improving gut and mental health, what happens if trans-Resveratrol treatment is started years after a patient developed IBS, how trans-Resveratrol affects the gut microbiome, and what other possible treatment options exist in the same molecular pathway.

If you’re interested in the scientific details, check out the following scholarly journal article.

Xu Y, Cui SY, Ma Q, Shi J, Yu Y, Li JX, Zheng L, Zhang Y, Si JM, Yu YC.  trans-Resveratrol Ameliorates Stress-Induced Irritable Bowel Syndrome-Like Behaviors by Regulation of Brain-Gut Axis. Front Pharmacol. 2018 Jun 15;9:631.

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