Resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins and red wine, is thought to improve heart health and reduce stroke risk in people, but scientists don’t entirely understand how it works yet.

Now, a new study shows that resveratrol affects the immune systems of dogs in odd ways. The finding may be a first step in determining how the chemical causes immune systems to react.

Sandra Axiak-Bechtel, assistant professor of oncology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri, says:

“This study makes it clear that resveratrol does cause the immune systems of dogs to change, but the changes it causes have created more questions.

We found that resveratrol simultaneously causes dogs’ immune systems to increase and decrease in different ways. If we can better understand why resveratrol makes these changes and learn to control them, the chemical may have valuable uses in treatments of cancer and other diseases in dogs and humans.”

Resveratrol Action

For the study, researchers added resveratrol to canine blood and measured innate immune system function.

Resveratrol caused the stimulated white blood cells to release more pro-inflammatory and fewer anti-inflammatory cytokines, which are signals cells use to communicate with each other during infection and inflammation. These cytokines point to a stimulated immune system.

But researchers also saw a decrease in the ability of neutrophils, which are immune cells that help fight diseases, to kill bacteria. This points to decreased immune system strength, Axiak-Bechtel says.

“Seeing a decrease in neutrophil function typically means an immune system is losing the ability to kill invaders like bacteria. Combining this loss of bacteria-fighting ability with an increase in inflammatory cytokines creates a very interesting mixed message in terms of what resveratrol is doing to the immune system.

It is clear that resveratrol is having a distinct effect on how the immune system reacts, but we still don’t fully understand how this reaction can be best used to fight disease. Once we have a better understanding of this process, resveratrol could be a valuable supplementary treatment in fighting diseases like cancer.”

Rowena A. Woode, Sandra M. Axiak-Bechtel, Kaoru Tsuruta, Juliana R. Amorim, Yan Zhang, Amy E. DeClue Resveratrol decreases oxidative burst capacity and alters stimulated leukocyte cytokine production in vitro Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology Volume 163, Issues 3–4, 15 February 2015

Photo: Sang Valte/flickr

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