July 10th, 2009 A group of chemicals found in many fruits and vegetables, as well as tea, cocoa and red wine, could protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease, a dementia expert will tell scientists at a conference today (Friday).
Speaking at the British Pharmacological Society’s Summer Meeting in Edinburgh, Dr. Robert Williams will argue that, while much more research needs to be done, there is mounting evidence that certain flavonoids – chemicals found in plants and food derived from plants – might provide therapeutic benefit for Alzheimer’s sufferers.
“There have been some intriguing epidemiological studies that the consumption of flavonoid-rich vegetables, fruit juices and red wine delays the onset of the disease,” says Dr Williams, a Biochemist working at Kings College London. “These reports, while not as powerful as controlled, randomised clinical trials, have encouraged a number of research groups, including our own, to investigate the biology of flavonoids in more detail.”
Dr Williams says that a lack of good research and clinical trial data meant this field of research had suffered from a lack of scientific credibility, not helped by early positive health claims for flavonoids that cannot access the brain or are broken down too rapidly by the body to be of any benefit. Scepticism also persists because flavonoids are known antioxidants and yet clinical trials with other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, showed no reported benefit on either symptoms or disease progression in dementia.
However, a new concept is emerging that suggests flavonoids do not act simply as antioxidants but exert their biological effects through other mechanisms. A small number of recent studies carried out in models of Alzheimer’s disease have found that oral administration of green tea flavonoids or grape flavonoids reduces brain pathology and, in some cases, improves cognition. Dr Williams and colleagues have focused their own cellular studies on a flavonoid called epicatechin, which is abundant in a number of foodstuffs, including cocoa.
“We have found that epicatechin protects brain cells from damage but through a mechanism unrelated to its antioxidant activity and shown in laboratory tests that it can also reduce some aspects of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.
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