Green tea and red wine have both been shown in numerous studies to contain antioxidants thought to increase overall health and possibly prevent some diseases. Now, a recent study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, has shown that purified extracts from green tea and red wine (specifically, the resveratrol in the red grape skins) have been shown in early animal studies to interrupt the pathway that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
"This is an important step in increasing our understanding of the cause and progression of Alzheimer's disease," says lead researcher Professor Nigel Hooper of the University's Faculty of Biological Sciences at Leeds, UK. "It's a misconception that Alzheimer's is a natural part of aging; it's a disease that we believe can ultimately be cured through finding new opportunities for drug targets like this."
Alzheimer's disease is thought to be characterized by a build-up of amyloid protein in the brain, which clumps together to form toxic, sticky balls of varying shapes. These amyloid balls latch on to the surface of nerve cells in the brain by attaching to proteins on the cell surface called prions, causing the nerve cells to malfunction and eventually die.
The research team formed amyloid balls in a test tube and added them to human and animal brain cells. They then added the extracts from red wine and green tea, which re-shapes amyloid protein. The result was that the amyloid balls no longer harmed the nerve cells. Because the amyloid protein’s shape was distorted, it could no longer bind to prions and disrupt cell function.
The team now needs to learn exactly how the amyloid-prion interaction kills off neurons. They believe that this will increase the understanding of Alzheimer's disease even further, with the potential to reveal yet more targets for future Alzheimer’s drugs.
According to Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, which partly funded the study, "Understanding the causes of Alzheimer's is vital if we are to find a way of stopping the disease in its tracks. While these early-stage results [of this study] 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."
I would agree with Dr. Ridley about not stocking up on green tea and red wine if we are simply drinking the beverages for protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Yet both green tea and resveratrol are thought to have properties that may protect us from many diseases including some cancers and heart disease. Once again, it seems that a good diet, in some cases enhanced by supplements, can help protect our health while we await more evidence on whether or not these foods may help protect us from developing Alzheimer’s disease.