The researchers -- led by Dr. Sylvain Dore -- fed mice a moderate amount of a compound found in red grape skins and seeds, then induced stroke-like damage in the animals. The animals that were treated with the red grape compound experienced 40 percent less brain damage than untreated mice, the researchers found.
Dore's study, which was partly funded by the U.S. government, was presented at a recent conference of the Society for Neuroscience in Atlanta.
"What is unique about this study is we have somewhat identified what can be the specific mechanism" in red wine that is responsible for stroke protection, Dore said. "Here we are building cell resistance against free radical damage."
Dore's research team found that a compound called resveratrol -- found in red wine and red grape skin and seeds -- increases brain levels of an enzyme that protects nerve cells from damage: heme oxygenase.
According to Dore, the benefits of drinking a moderate daily amount of red wine could possibly be attributed to the fact that the wine activates the brain's heme oxygenase antioxidant system.
"Red wine has been suggested for the heart," Dore said. "Here what we show is its special effect in stroke and pre-treatment. It suggests that prophylactic use of wine could work." Dore added that the fermentation process in making red wine boosts the drink's concentration of resveratrol, though more studies are needed to determine the compound's role in human health.
Holistic nutritionist Mike Adams, author of "The Seven Laws of Nutrition," said the health benefits of red wine can be attributed to the red grapes it is made from.
"The resveratrol found in grape skins is one of the most potent cardiovascular medicines yet discovered by modern science," Adams said. "Drinking red wine is great for your health because nature puts medicine in red grapes."
Although the amount of red wine needed per day to be beneficial varies depending on the particular wine's resveratrol concentration and the drinker's weight, Dora said it is likely two glasses a day would provide adequate benefits.