MEDFORD, Mass. — A new Alzheimer’s study has found two compounds that reduce the buildup of harmful plaques in the brain — one of hallmarks of the disease. Importantly, these compounds are common ingredients in two popular drinks: green tea and red wine.
A team from Tufts University discovered that green tea catechins and resveratrol inhibit growth of sticky beta amyloid plaques. When this protein clumps together in the brain, it disrupts neural cells and leads to the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss and confusion.
Previously, the same team discovered that the common herpes virus may play a role in causing these plaques to form in the brain. Using a 3D model of living human brain cells, the new study tested 21 different compounds which had the potential to slow Alzheimer’s progression. Some of these candidates tried to stop Alzheimer’s by acting as an antiviral agent against Alzheimer’s triggered by a herpes virus.
Finding such a compound “that could diminish the plaques regardless of the virus component would be ideal, because that would show that regardless of the cause of Alzheimer’s, you might still see some kind of improvement,” says lead researcher Dana Cairns, a research associate in the Kaplan Lab in the School of Engineering, in a university release.
What makes green tea and red wine special?
The initial screening found five compounds that had “really robust prevention of these plaques,” according to Cairns. Along with the green tea compounds and resveratrol, the three others included curcumin from turmeric, the diabetes drug Metformin, and a compound called citicoline. All of them prevented plaques from forming and did not produce antiviral side-effects.
“We hoped to find compounds that would be harmless and show some level of efficacy,” the researcher adds.
By the end of the study, both green tea compounds and resveratrol met that standard.
“We got lucky that some of these showed some pretty strong efficacy,” Cairns says. “In the case of these compounds that passed the screening, they had virtually no plaques visible after about a week.”
Study authors say the green tea catechins are molecules in the tea leaves which have antioxidant properties. Previous studies have looked at this are potential cancer treatments. Meanwhile, scientists have been looking at resveratrol as a possible anti-aging treatment. Resveratrol is naturally abundant in red wine, certain fruits such as grapes, blueberries, and cranberries, peanuts, pistachios, and cocoa.
However, Cairns cautions that seeing this impact in the lab “doesn’t always necessarily translate to what you might see in a patient.”
“While it is empowering to be able to take measures like these to potentially prevent neurodegeneration in the future, it is also important to consult with your health-care provider before making any major changes to your diet.”
Moving forward, scientists note that they still have to examine the bioavailability of these compounds — meaning how well does the body or bloodstream absorb them. Also, there are questions as to whether they can cross the blood-brain barrier — an essential part for treating Alzheimer’s.
The findings are published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine.