Grapes & Alzheimer's: Protection Against Mental Decline

Half a healthy brain next to half a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease.

A chemical found in grapes might help prevent the mental decline associated with Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. In experiments with mice, an easily available anti-oxidant nutritional supplement decreased levels of a brain toxin associated with Alzheimer's memory loss.

The chemical, grape seed polyphenols, was given to mice who were bred to have memory deficits similar to those found in Alzheimer's. A neurotoxin called Aβ-56 is associated with the memory deficits and is found in high levels in the mice brains.

After treatment with the grape-derived polyphenols the level of Aβ-56 was significantly lower. This corroborates earlier studies that found that the same chemicals, found in high amounts in red wine, can protect against cognitive decline in Alzheimer's. The research also provides an explanation for how the effect works: the polyphenols reduce the level of Aβ-56 in the brain.

“Since naturally occurring polyphenols are also generally commercially available as nutritional supplements and have negligible adverse events even after prolonged periods of treatment, this new finding holds significant promise as a preventive method or treatment, and is being tested in translational studies in Alzheimer’s disease patients,” said Dr. Giulio Maria Pasinetti, lead researcher, in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The studies still need to be translated into humans to see if the effect holds. The researchers also emphasized that the effect works best in the early stages of Alzheimer's and that scientists need to find ways to identify who is at risk for developing Alzheimer's.

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