Pomegranate extract (not the arils from the fruit) could be a promising new disease fighter. (Photo: iStock)
Pomegranates have been linked with a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in animal studies, but scientists now say they’ve isolated the reason why.
New research published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience identified a particular compound created when the body interacts with pomegranate extract — and researchers think it could help in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
For the study, scientists isolated and identified 21 compounds that were mostly polyphenols (plant-based molecules with antioxidant properties) from pomegranate extract. They discovered that the polyphenols couldn’t cross the blood-brain barrier, but one compound, called urolithins, could.
Urolithins are anti-inflammatories that are created when your gut bacteria break down the polyphenols in pomegranate extract.
Here’s why their blood-brain barrier-crossing ability is so important: Alzheimer’s disease is associated with amyloid proteins that form clumps in the brain. In order to prevent those clumps from forming, a molecule would have to cross the blood-brain barrier, which urolithins can do.
Researchers also tested urolithins on roundworms with Alzheimer’s and found that they increased the lifespan of the worms.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the only top 10 cause of death in America that can’t be prevented, cured, or slowed down. An estimated 5.1 million people aged 65 and older suffer from the disease, and that number is expected to increase to 7.1 million by 2025.
Previous research has also touted pomegranates’ Alzheimer’s-fighting effect. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that pomegranate extract helped reduce the severity of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in rodents. Research published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research in 2014 determined that punicalagin, another compound found in pomegranates, may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s by treating brain inflammation.
While the latest finding is exciting (and good news for pomegranate-lovers), researchers say more tests are needed to determine whether urolithins could help prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
Want to try pomegranate extract? It’s fairly inexpensive and available online and in many drugstores in both capsule and liquid form.
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