The epidemic of Alzheimer’s takes an enormous toll. The disease ravages the brain, robbing people of memory and awareness, and disconnecting them from those they love. And it’s increasing: according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is now the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. Some 5.4 million Americans now suffer from it, affecting millions of households. But the race to find treatments is uncovering many promising new developments, including black currants. The powerful antioxidants in these tiny, dark berries may help slow the disease’s damage, and prolong lives.
An Assault on the Brain
Of all the dementia cases in the U.S., Alzheimer’s accounts for some 80 percent. The disease results in badly reduced mental abilities and tragic, debilitating memory loss. Researchers have linked Alzheimer’s to abnormal clumps in the brain, known as amyloid plaques, and tangled bundles of fibers called neurofibrillary tangles. The specific role these plaques and tangles play in the disease is not entirely known. But scientists believe they help block communication among nerve cells and disrupt the vital processes those cells need to survive. The death of these nerve cells is what causes the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Protection in Black Currant Extract
What makes black currant so promising in the fight against Alzheimer’s is its concentration of potent anti-oxidants. These anthocyanins may help prevent the degradation of blood vessels and Alzheimer’s-related dementia. Cholesterol build-up in the walls of blood vessels causes a reduced flow of blood to the brain, which can cause vascular dementia.
Researchers presented a promising paper to the American Heart Association, showing that anthocyanins from black currant extract may have beneficial effects. A membrane-enriched black currant extract, supplied by Iprona AG under their BerryPharma brand, was tested for its effect on the arteries. The study compared the effects of the extract to the effects of a placebo. The extract helped improve flow, and resulted in a decrease of the plaques associated with the disease.
Reducing Protein Levels in the Brain
A study on mice with Alzheimer’s disease was recently published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Researchers fed one group of mice anthocyanin-enriched bilberry and black currant extracts, and the other group a control diet. As a result, the mice fed the extracts showed far lower brain protein levels than the mice fed the control diet. These proteins — called asamyloid precursor proteins (APP) — are thought to be a key risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The mice who were fed the extracts also showed far less spatial memory loss than the mice fed the control diet.
Delaying the Damages of Aging
Tufts University research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, studied the effects of high-antioxidant fruits on oxidative stress in brain cells — another factor linked to risk of Alzheimer’s. The study found that these fruit extracts (such as black currant, boysenberry, cranberry, strawberry, dried plum, and grape) had a strong protective effect. It was noted that the high levels of anthocyanins and polyphenols in dark berries may help protect aging brain cells, slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s.
A Traditional Cure
Black currant has long been a traditional cure, used to treat digestive ailments, colds, and flu. Black currant seed oil is an increasingly popular anti-inflammatory. But now it’s clear that this little berry may also help fight the devastating effects of cognitive decline. We’re learning more about ways to help stay healthy as we age, including the importance of keeping our minds and bodies busy. We’re also learning about the power in natural ingredients. By midcentury, reports the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the U.S. will develop the disease every 33 seconds. The news that black currants hold so much potential is promising indeed.