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article imagePomegranate candidate in quest for Alzheimer’s cure

By Robert Myles     Aug 23, 2014 in Health
Huddersfield - The onset of Alzheimer's can be slowed and some symptoms reduced by a natural compound found in pomegranate fruit. Those are the preliminary findings of a two year study undertaken by researchers at the University of Huddersfield in the UK.
The study, led by University of Huddersfield scientist, Dr Olumayokun Olajide, a specialist in the anti-inflammatory properties of natural products also found that the painful inflammation associated with conditions such as arthritis and Parkinson's disease could be reduced.
Research will now move into a secondary phase to explore the development of drugs that could stem the development of dementias such as Alzheimer's. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading health charity focused on the disease, Alzheimer’s currently affects around 800,000 in the UK alone. That figure is projected to rise to 1.7 million by 2051 as improved diet, exercise and health lead to greater longevity.
The Alzheimer’s Society charity estimates that one out of three people over the age of 65 will develop some form of dementia. At present, 163,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s are being diagnosed annually in the UK.
Globally, the problem is magnified, there being currently at least 44.4 million dementia sufferers. Those numbers are expected to soar in years to come. In December last year, a study conducted by Alzheimer's Disease International and the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that by 2050, 135 million people worldwide would see their health and well-being suffer due to dementia.
The key finding of Dr Olajide and his co-researchers was to demonstrate that punicalagin, a chemical compound found in pomegranate fruit, could inhibit inflammation in specialised brain cells known as microglia.
Punicalagin is a naturally occurring complex molecule. It’s known to be the major component responsible for pomegranate juice's antioxidant properties.
In the brain, microglial cells are found in the macrophages of the brain and spinal cord. They act as the first and main form of active immune defense in the central nervous system. If microglial cells become inflamed, that leads to the destruction of more and more brain cells making the condition of Alzheimer's sufferers progressively worse.
The quest for a cure for Alzheimer’s remains but the discovery of punicalagin’s beneficial effects holds out hope that the onset of Alzheimer’s could be prevented or its development slowed down. For the moment, Dr Olajide is working on the amounts of pomegranate that would be required in order for any drug subsequently developed to be effective.
Commenting on the results so far, Dr Olajide said, “We do know that regular intake and regular consumption of pomegranate has a lot of health benefits – including prevention of neuro-inflammation related to dementia."
Dr Olajide recommended juice products that are 100 percent pomegranate. Such juices contain 3.4 percent punicalagin, the “active ingredient” that delays the dementia’s progression.
But it’s not simply a case of buying a few kilos pomegranates and juicing them, since most of the anti-oxidant compounds are found in the outer skin of the fruit, not in the seedy pulp of the interior. Assuming the punicalagin can be extracted commercially, and subject to scientific evaluation, Dr Olajide foresees the pomegranate coming in useful in treating other conditions where inflammation is a factor such as rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease and cancer.
The research to date, conducted by Dr Olajide alongside four PhD students in the University of Huddersfield's Department of Pharmacy and scientists at Germany’s University of Freiburg, involved using brain cells isolated from rats to test findings. Now, in collaboration with organic chemist Dr Karl Hemming, also based at the University of Huddersfield, Dr Olajide aims to produce compound derivatives of punicalagin that could form the basis of new, orally administered drugs intended to treat neuro-inflammation.
The research is published in the latest edition of the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. Dr Olajide intends disseminating his findings at upcoming academic conferences.
More about Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer's disease research, cure for Alzheimer's, alzheimer's drugs, alzheimer's epidemic
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