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Black Currant: A Natural Tool to Fight Alzheimer’s

By Maureen Sangiorgio

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing rapidly, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Some 5.4 million Americans currently have the disease. It’s now the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. By the middle of this century, someone in the U.S. will develop the disease every 33 seconds. But as we learn more about Alzheimer’s, we’re also discovering new and natural tools that may help fight it, such as the tiny, dark, incredibly powerful blackcurrant.

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Alzheimer’s attacks the brain, causing memory loss and severely declining mental ability. Of all the dementia cases in the U.S., Alzheimer’s accounts for some 80 percent. While some of the disease’s workings are still a mystery, the disease is characterized by the appearance of abnormal clumps in the brain, or amyloid plaques, and tangled bundles of fibers called neurofibrillary tangles.

While scientists do not know exactly what role these plaques and tangles play in the disease, it’s believed that they are involved in blocking communication among nerve cells and disrupting the vital processes those cells need to survive. The destruction and death of those nerve cells cause the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s. And that’s where blackcurrant comes in.

Protection for the Brain

It turns out that blackcurrant may be useful in preventing the degradation of blood vessels and Alzheimer´s-related dementia, due to its being rich in anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants. One result of cholesterol building up in the walls of blood vessels is a reduced flow of blood to the brain – which in turn can cause vascular dementia. But a promising research paper that was recently presented to the American Heart Association showed that anthocyanins from blackcurrant extract may have beneficial effects. German researchers used a membrane-enriched blackcurrant extract, supplied by Iprona AG under their “Berry Pharma” brand, to test its effect on the arteries.The study compared the effects of the blackcurrant extract to that of a placebo and found that the extract had a marked improvement on flow, and resulted in a decrease of the plaques associated with the disease.

Another study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, found that mice with Alzheimer’s disease had far lower protein levels in their brains when fed anthocyanin-enriched bilberry and blackcurrant extracts thank those fed a control diet. These proteins, known asamyloid precursor proteins (APP), are believed to be a key risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease. The extract-fed group also had less spatial working memory loss than the mice on the control diet.

Research at Tufts University, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, investigated the effects of high-antioxidant fruits (such as blackcurrant, boysenberry, cranberry, strawberry, dried plums, and grapes) on oxidative stress in brain cells, which has been linked to risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found these fruit extracts had a strong protective effect, and suggested that the high levels of anthocyanins and polyphenols in dark berries may indeed help protect aging brain cells, and may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

High in vitamin C as well as polyphenols, blackcurrant has long been a traditional cure. In Europe it was crushed into an elixir to help treat colds and flu. The tiny black berries have also been used to help treat mild diarrhea, and blackcurrant seed oil is an increasingly popular anti-inflammatory. But now it’s clear this nearly black berry may also help stave off the devastating effects of cognitive decline. As we learn more aboutways to help stay healthy as we age, from staying socially and mentally active to pursuing creative outlets and volunteering, we’re also discovering that there’s power in natural ingredients like blackcurrants.

Maureen Sangiorgio is an award-winning health writer based in Macungie, PA. Maureen has been extensively published in national media consumer publications such as Parade & Spry Living magazines. Awards include Radcliffe College’s Exceptional Merit Media award, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s National Health Information Gold award. 

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