August 26, 2014

Pomegranate for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's?

The continuing saga of pomegranate magic has again lit up the internet over the past few days.

This time, the story focuses on punicaligan -- a polyphenol found mainly in the skin of pomegranate fruits – which scientists at the University of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England, think may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s (AD) and Parkinson’s. Their findings were just published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

The report claims that this punicaligan compound could slow down the inexorable progress of AD by inhibiting inflammation in specialized brain cells known as micrologia. That inflammation, when unchecked, enables the continuing destruction of brain cells typical of people with Alzheimner’s… and Parkinson’s, too.

As the buzz reverberates about pomegranate’s anti-inflammatory qualities, Huddersfield scientists have begun a new effort to develop drugs – mimicking the efficacy of punicaligan – that treat neuro-inflammation.

Pomegranante Benefits Not New
Lead researcher Dr. Olumayokun Olajide is quick to tout the benefits of pomegranate. "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," he said. 

Olajide -- who became interested in the anti-inflammatory effects of natural products as a med student in his native Nigeria -- says pomegranate has been of interest to Alzheimer's researchers for some time. Previous studies have suggested it can help break down plaque that builds up in the brain and brings on the beginnings of the disease.

There may also be applications for punicalagin compounds to treat conditions that involve general inflammation – not just neuro-inflammation – such as rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer.

Olijide and his team are eager to establish the “dosage” of pomegranate that yields the best protection against neuro-inflammation. So far, they estimate that 100% pomegranate juice products contain about 3.4% punicaligan, most of which is in the fruit’s skin, and not in the soft, pulpy part.

Here We Go Again
As we’ve seen time after time, these promising results occurred using rats in the lab. Although amounts of DNA that humans share with rodents may be surprisingly high, there is still a gigantic leap before the Huddersfield findings have any useful application for humans. Even if science can bridge that divide, punicaligan has been shown only to slow the progress of neuro-inflammatory diseases, and not to stop or prevent it.

In any case, the race for treatment is on. Estimates suggest that there are about five million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease (and as many as one million with Parkinson’s).

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Quick facts about AD from the Alzheimer's Association:
  • More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease.
  • Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's.
  • Alzheimer's disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • There are approximately 500,000 people dying each year because they have Alzheimer's.
  • 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dementia.
  • In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $220 billion.
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Many media outlets carried this news about pomegranate's punicaligan from West Yorkshire, England. Here are a few:

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