The idea of protecting your brain with a tasty snack food may sound far-fetched. But research into the health benefits of a tiny, delicious fruit demonstrates that this morsel can appeal to both your brain and your taste buds.
Considered a delight since ancient times, grapes are proving their mettle in a growing body of research into how Alzheimer’s begins and how it might be prevented. But the part of the grape you’d least expect may be the one that offers the most benefits.
The natural chemicals in grapes thought to be most beneficial for the brain are a group of compounds known as polyphenols. Lab tests show that they can slow down the destructive processes that damage the brain and bring on dementia.
Stop the First Stages of Brain Loss
One of the initial steps in the breakdown of brain connections that leads to Alzheimer’s entails the misfolding of a protein in the brain called tau. In a manner that scientists haven’t been able to explain yet, this abnormal formation of tau spreads in the brain, accumulating in one brain cell after another.
When researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine performed lab research on the mechanisms behind this brain tissue damage, they found that misfolded tau is released by brain neurons and then spreads by being absorbed by surrounding brain cells. As it’s absorbed, it corrupts other protein that was behaving normally before coming into contact with this destructive substance.
When the scientists treated brain cells in the lab with polyphenols extracted from grape seeds, they found that these natural chemicals could halt this disruptive process.i
While some people may swallow the seeds when they eat grapes, supplements are an easier way to get a clinical dose of grape seed extract. Grape seed extract has also been shown to have a powerful effect against cancer. In fact, this unlikely-sounding nutrient may be one of the most exciting discoveries in years.
“Pathology in neurodegenerative disorders is thought to be initiated decades before disease onset,” says researcher Giulio Maria Pasinetti. “While further research is needed in humans, we hypothesize that this grape-derived compound may be a promising therapy for not only treating but preventing neurodegenerative disorders involving tau neuropathology.”
Don’t Worry, the Juice Helps Your Mind, Too
Research by Robert Krikorian, at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, has demonstrated that drinking grape juice may also supply enough of these types of polyphenols to help boost memory and language skills in senior citizens whose intellectual abilities have started to slip.ii
In one test, older adults suffering mild cognitive impairment (MCI) were given grape juice to drink every day for about three months. When they were tested afterwards, their verbal memory had improved and scans of their brains also found what appeared to be improved brain function. Spatial memory was also boosted.
Consequently, Krikorian recommends that anyone who wants to protect brain function should include grapes and grape juice in the daily diet. At the same time, he says he would “recommend first of all thinking about eliminating the negative things. I would recommend eliminating as much as possible, and entirely if the person can do it, if they have enough willpower and conscientiousness, to eliminate all processed carbohydrates. So in terms of carbohydrate consumption eating only fruits and vegetables and not consuming grain products of any sort and certainly not sweets of any sort.” iii
In Krikorian’s view, foods made from grains, even those made with whole grains, contain overly concentrated amounts of carbohydrates without providing the kind of protective nutrients found in grapes.
The evidence from the type of research Krikorian has performed is clear: Your anti-Alzheimer’s program should include grapes. As Krikorian further notes: “They have antioxidant effects… they improve the resilience of neurons, brain cells, to certain kinds of insults like radiation and toxins. They have been shown to actually modify, in a beneficial way, signaling between nerve cells, specifically in memory centers in the brain.”