September 21st marks World Alzheimer's Day - so let's start by clarifying what Alzheimer’s really is.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and brain cells to die. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills that affects a person's ability to function independently.
Approximately 5.8 million people in the United States age 65 and older live with Alzheimer's disease. Of those, 80% are 75 years old and older. Out of the approximately 50 million people worldwide with dementia, between 60% and 70% are estimated to have Alzheimer's disease.
The early signs of the disease include forgetting recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer's disease will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to carry out everyday tasks.
Medications may temporarily improve or slow progression of symptoms. These treatments can sometimes help people with Alzheimer's disease maximize function and maintain independence for a time. Different programs and services can help support people with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.
Plant-based foods form an integral component of the human diet and their consumption is consistently linked to the maintenance of health and the prevention of a vast array of diseases.
A growing body of evidence has shown that phytochemicals contribute to the antioxidant activity of individual fruits and vegetables and are consequently credited with the observed health benefits.
Flavonoids are a class of polyphenols that have been studied intensively and are categorised into six major classes: anthocyanins, flavanols, flavanones, flavones, flavonols, and isoflavones. Flavonoids are found in particularly high concentrations in fruits (blackcurrants) and vegetables, wine, tea and cocoa. The consumption of flavonoids has been associated with a reduction in risk for cardiovascular diseases and some cancers and more recently there has been attention directed to their potential to protect against neurodegenerative diseases and improve cognitive performance in older adults.
The sub-group of flavanols, anthocyanins have been shown to be the most beneficial of the flavonoid family in terms of neuroprotection. Much of the food-based research has focused on flavonoid-rich blueberries and strawberries, however attention is turning towards blackcurrants and their uniquely high levels of flavonoids. The biological actions of flavonoids on cognitive function have been attributed to a number of mechanisms. Their antioxidant actions assist to scavenge free radicals in the brain, while their neuroprotective effects include protection of vulnerable neurons against inflammation, enhancement of existing neuronal function, increased blood flow to the brain and neurogenesis initiation in areas of the brain that are associated with cognition.
Initial research investigated the cognitive enhancing effects of flavonoid-rich foods in participants with both normal cognitive function and people with mild cognitive impairment. More recently effects of anthocyanins in dementia patients were examined.
This study from the University of Wollongong found that daily consumption of a feasible serving of anthocyanin-rich juice for 12 weeks improved cognitive performance across almost all tasks in older adults with mild to moderate dementia. Statistically significant improvements were seen for verbal fluency and tasks relating to verbal learning and both short and long-term memory. The moderate and large effect sizes seen for the cognitive tasks highlight the clinical relevance of these cognitive improvements.
In light of projections indicating rapid increases in the prevalence of the dementia and in the absence of successful treatments, alternative measures to slow the development and progression of dementia are imperative.
Flavonoids may be more likely to hinder both normal and disease-related losses in cognitive performance through their actions on the brain's cellular and molecular architecture of memory, rather than halt disease progression.
This means products like Ārepa are a useful intervention at all ages and stages. Due to this, further clinical trials with Ārepa and its unique composition are underway to clearly elucidate how and to what extent it can help mitigate the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
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