Compounds inherent in berries, pomegranate juice, wine and green tea have all been cited as having the potential to help people live longer and better. New research is revealing how these compounds—called polyphenols—work, not only as anti-oxidants but also in a neuroprotective capacity in the brain.
Down the road, this work could lead to new, more directed treatments for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Huntington’s Disease.
The Power of Polyphenols
But how might something like a glass of pomegranate juice help protect the brain? The secret lies in the substance’s polyphenol molecules.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring chemical compounds in plants that can be found in significant amounts in the skins of berries, grapes, beans and nuts. For the most part, the health effects of polyphenols, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, have been chalked up to their anti-oxidant properties.
All cells in the human body need to produce energy to function properly. Unfortunately, one effect of this energy production is oxidative stress, or the release of reactive oxygen and free radicals by the cell into the body. These free radicals can interact with other cell proteins and membranes, leading to cell damage. Such oxidative damage has been associated with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
The body defends itself against the onslaught of oxidative damage with its own production of anti-oxidants. But studies have shown that people who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables that also contain anti-oxidants may be better protected against developing heart disease and some types of cancer.