The believed health benefits of red wine, which are still debated in the medical community, have long been attributed to flavonoid compounds in grapes.
But now a recent British study conducted on rats suggests that a slightly different compound found in grapes, phenolic acid, may counteract the memory loss associated with aging, and could help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia.
"These exciting results illustrate for the first time that the moderate consumption of champagne has the potential to influence cognitive functioning, such as memory," says study author and medical scientist Jeremy Spencer from University of Reading.
"Such observations have previously been reported with red wine, through the flavonoids contained within it."
While champagne does not contain flavonoids, it does have relatively high levels of phenolics compared to white wine, derived predominantly from the two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Those two grapes are used in its production along with the white grape Chardonnay.
Spencer and colleagues, whose research was published in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, suggest that phenolics in champagne can improve spatial memory, which is responsible for storing information for future navigation.
"Our results suggest that a very low intake of one to two glasses a week can be effective," says Spencer.
The rats in the the study were given champagne daily for six weeks. Each rat was allowed to run in a maze to find an edible treat. Five minutes later, the exercise was repeated to see if the rat had remembered where it had retrieved the original treat and where it could find another, reports the Daily Mail.
The rats had a 50 per cent success rate without champagne, but a 70 per cent success rate with champagne.
"The results were dramatic. After rats consumed champagne regularly, there was a 200 per cent increase of proteins important for determining effective memory, Spencer says.
"This occurred in rats after just six weeks. We think it would take about three years in humans."
The phenolic compounds work by modulating signals in the hippocampus and cortex, which control memory and learning. The phenolics slow the loss of proteins in these brain regions, which are known to deplete with age, making memory storage less efficient.
"We will be looking to translate these findings into humans. This has been successful with other polyphenol-rich foods, such as blueberry and cocoa, and we predict similar outcomes for moderate champagne intake on cognition in humans," adds study lead author and medical scientist, David Vauzour from the University of East Anglia.