Supplement benefits brain and pain

Feb 16 2017

Taking a small dose of resveratrol twice daily can boost cognitive performance in postmenopausal women and also alleviate their experience of chronic pain, a study by the University of Newcastle’s Clinical Nutrition Research Centre has shown.

CNRC Director Professor Peter Howe believes the nutritional supplement – which is also found in red wine, grapes, berries and other food sources – improves blood vessel function and increases blood delivery to brain regions during mental activation.

“We have been pursuing a unique hypothesis for some years,” Professor Howe says. “We believe a variety of bioactive substances that are potentially very beneficial for brain function are delivering their benefits indirectly by improving the essential supply of oxygen and energy sources to nervous tissue, rather than acting directly on the nerves themselves.

“We refer to these substances as vasoactive nutrients; they include omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids such as cocoa flavanols and soy isoflavones.”

Heading the resveratrol program, Dr Rachel Wong says an initial HMRI-funded clinical trial involving 80 postmenopausal volunteers showed the potential for enhanced brain functions, including memory, and a lowering of chronic pain in conditions such as osteoarthritis. Resveratrol may also enhance perceptions of wellbeing, she adds. 

Results are now appearing in two leading international journals, Nutrients and Menopause.

“The findings of this preliminary trial exceeded expectations. Compared with those on placebo, women taking two 75mg capsules of resveratrol daily experienced improvements not only in cognitive performance but across a range of mood indicators,” Dr Wong adds. “Moreover, their feelings of pain were reduced and these benefits were linked to improved brain blood flow.”

According to Dr Wong, isoflavones and resveratrol act like oestrogen, the female hormone that declines after menopause. This knowledge prompted the postmenopausal trial.

“Considering that elderly women are known to exhibit higher dementia prevalence and severity than men, and that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are associated with cerebrovascular diseases affecting blood flow in the brain, we wanted to see if we could improve cognitive performance postmenopausally.”

The team is now undertaking a larger two-year study, supported by an NHMRC-ARC Dementia Fellowship to Dr Wong and a grant from Evolva SA. It aims to enrol 170 women to test the effects of supplementation on postmenopausal bone and muscle loss as well as the circulatory, cognitive and mood outcomes and perceptions of wellbeing, physical function and pain.

Recruitment is ongoing until June. Women aged between 45 and 85, who are not taking oral hormone therapy, should contact (02) 4921 8616 or email