Alzheimer's disease is defined by harmful clumps of proteins that accumulate in the brain, attach to nerve cells and lead healthy brain cells to malfunction and then die. As of now there's no known way of preventing the build up of these clumps of proteins (called amyloid beta), no explanation for why some people suffer from Alzheimer's and others don't, and no highly effective treatments for the disease.
But researchers at the University of Leeds may have taken a small step toward solving this brain health mystery, by discovering that extracts of green tea and red wine disrupt the process by which harmful proteins latch onto brain cells.
They formed the amyloid beta proteins in a test tube and then added them to human brain cells in the lab. When they added extracts of green tea and red wine (EGCG and resveratrol, respectively), the protein clumps changed shape and weren't able to latch onto the brain cells.
This isn't the first hint green tea and red wine might play a role in brain health. Past studies have indicated that EGCG improves memory in mice, and the U.S. government is currently sponsoring a study to see if resveratrol might slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer's.
So should green tea and red wine be considered pillars of a healthy brain diet? The researchers were quick to caution that their study suggests no such thing: "While these early-stage results should not be a signal for people to stock up on green tea and red wine, they could provide an important new lead in the search for new and effective treatments," said Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, in a statement.
But as somebody who drinks quite a bit of green tea and red wine already, I'm happy to think that I might be staving off Alzheimer's with my little habits.
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