As horrible as the news is to hear, you may need to start eating more dark chocolate, drink a little more red wine, and eat some blueberries once in while. Yep, these fantastic foods (and one fantastic beverage) may be the key to aging with vitality and vigour. A new study has buttressed past findings which suggest that an antioxidant in these items counters Alzheimer’s disease, and we’re pretty chuffed about it.

Over the years, resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes, chocolate, blueberries and red wine, has been touted as a possible antidote to Alzheimer’s disease (as well as cancer and diabetes). But the evidence has been anecdotal. Now the first study published in the journal Neurology in people with Alzheimer’s suggests that the compound does actually protect the aging brain from declining.

The study was big: researchers from over 20 medical centres across America examined the safety and effectiveness of taking high doses of resveratrol in pill (equal to the amount of the antioxidant in 1000 bottles of red wine!) for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. They found that people who took up to four pills a day for a year had higher levels of a certain biomarker (amyloid-beta proteins) in their spinal fluid than those who took a placebo pill. What’s important here is that an accumulation of amyloid-beta in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, but having levels of it outside the brain is good. The study finding suggests that resveratrol could help change the balance of amyloid-beta in the body, reducing levels in the brain while increasing the levels outside of the brain.

Unfortunately, it is a little premature to recommend that these pills become widely available.

But the authors are optimistic: “The study is encouraging enough that we should certainly go ahead and do a [larger] clinical trial because we showed that it is safe and does have significant effects on Alzheimer’s biomarkers,” said Dr Scott Turner, a professor of neurology at Georgetown University Medical Centre who led the study.

The downside of taking such high doses of the antioxidant, the researchers found, was weight loss (about 1 kilogram over the year). However, weight loss if already a concern among people with Alzheimer’s. The main goal of the current study, which included 119 patients, was to find out whether high doses of resveratrol could be safe. The weight loss was the only side-effect noted.

The study also left some important questions unanswered, like whether or not patients taking resveratrol actually had lower levels of amyloid-beta plaques in their brain, and whether they experienced less decline in their mental faculties.

But Turner revealed that a large clinical trial which will address these issues will get underway in a year.

Still, the researchers hold that the findings give some indication that resveratrol could improve cognition as patients who took the pill had slight improvements in their ability to carry out daily tasks. There was also some anecdotal evidence (patient self-reports) that people who took the people said they felt as if they were maintaining their mental ability (even though they were blind to whether they had been given the pill or the placebo).

If resveratrol does pan out in further research, it may add to the medications that are currently available, and will not be used alone.