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Posted: June 24, 2008

Can Grape Seed Extract Slow Alzheimer's Progress?

A natural compound found in grape seed extract impeded plaque formation and reduced the cognitive impairment of Alzheimer's disease typically associated with plaque buildup, according to new research in mice.


Lead study author, Dr. Giulio Pasinetti of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and colleagues found that grape seed extract prevents amyloid beta accumulation in cells, suggesting that it may actually block the formation of plaques. In Alzheimer's, amyloid beta accumulates to form toxic plaques that disrupt normal brain function.


According to study findings published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers used an animal model to test a grape seed polyphenolic extract product sold as MegaNatural-AZ, made by Polyphenolics, which in part supported the study. Polyphenolic compounds are antioxidants naturally found in wine, tea, chocolate, and some fruits and vegetables.


To determine whether the extract could diminish the effects of Alzheimer's, researchers used mice genetically modified to develop a condition similar to Alzheimer's disease. They exposed pre-symptomatic "Alzheimer's mice" to the extract or placebo daily for five months. The daily dose of the polyphenolic extract was equivalent to the average amount of polyphenolics consumed by a person on a daily basis.


After five months, the Alzheimer's mice were at an age at which they normally develop signs of disease. However, the extract exposure reduced amyloid beta accumulation and plaque formation in brains of the test mice and also reduced cognitive decline. When compared to placebo, mice that were exposed to the extract showed improved spatial memory.


Overall, the research team said, this result suggests that before symptoms begin, the grape seed extract may prevent or postpone plaque formation and slow cognitive deterioration associated with Alzheimer's.


Moderate consumption of red wine – which the FDA describes as approximately one glass for women and two glasses for men -- and its grape compounds has acknowledged health benefits, particularly for the cardiovascular system.


For some time, Pasinetti and his team have been intrigued by the connection between red wine and cognitive decline. "Our intent is to develop a highly tolerable, non-toxic, orally available treatment for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's dementia," Pasinetti said.


"The potential of natural compounds to provide real health benefits to brain function is only now beginning to be realized by brain researchers. The lesson they may eventually learn is that sometimes you just can't improve upon Mother nature," said Gary Arendash, PhD, of The Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, an expert unaffiliated with the study.


Chemical analysis showed that the major polyphenol components in the study's grape seed extract product are catechin and epicatechin, which are also abundant in tea and cocoa. These components differ from resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red wine that has been reported to reduce amyloid beta secretion in cells and generally increase lifespan by mimicking calorie restriction. Resveratrol appears to be effective only at extremely high doses, which may limit its use in people. In contrast, the catechins in the extract product studied appear to be effective at much lower doses.


Dr. Karen Hsiao Ashe, of the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis VA Medical Center, another expert unaffiliated with the study, cautioned that additional research must be completed before these findings translate to a human population.


"Unanswered questions pertaining to the polyphenolic extract's use in humans to prevent Alzheimer's disease include: when to start taking it, for how long, how much to take, and most importantly, how does a person know if it is helping to prevent the aggregation of amyloid beta protein in the brain? These questions must be answered before polyphenolics can be recommended as a preventive measure for Alzheimer's disease," Ashe said.

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