A new Alzheimer’s study has discovered that two compounds in green tea and red wine reduce the buildup of harmful plaques in the brain, one of the main hallmarks of the disease.

The researcher team, from Tufts University, discovered that green tea catechins and resveratrol inhibit growth of sticky beta amyloid plaques. When beta amyloid, a protein, clumps together in the brain, it disrupts neural cells and causes the telltale symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss and confusion.

Previously, the team from Tufts discovered that the common herpes virus may play a role in causing these plaques to form in the brain.

Green tea and red wine: fighting Alzheimer’s

By using a 3D model of living human brain cells, the researchers 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 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.

The first screening showed that five compounds allowed “really robust prevention of these plaques,” according to Cairns. Along with the green tea compounds and resveratrol, the three others were curcumin from turmeric, the diabetes drug Metformin, and a compound called citicoline. All of these compounds 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.”

The researchers 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. Scientists have also been looking at resveratrol as a possible anti-aging treatment. Resveratrol is naturally found in large amounts in red wine, certain fruits such as grapes, blueberries, and cranberries, as well as 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.”

In the future, the researchers will have to examine the bioavailability of these compounds (how well the body can absorb them). There are also questions about whether they can cross the blood-brain barrier, and therefore get to the site where Alzheimer’s does its terrible damage. Time will tell.

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