Protect your Brain from Ageing with Plant Polyphenols

Ageing is only second to obesity as a health concern of global proportions. Ageing is essentially the diminished capacity of our internal systems to repair themselves which correlates with the number of years we count. How does ageing relate to brain and mental abilities? Ageing and stress reduce the rate of production of new brain cells. For a long time, it was thought that brain cells are “terminally” developed and differentiated and lose the ability to divide and produce new brain cells. This view is challenged by evidence that two areas of the brain are capable of cell division and they continue to produce new brain cells in the adult brain as well. One of these areas is a part of the hippocampus, the organ associated with memory and the other is a part of the lower brain.

Ageing, stress, life-changing trauma and substance abuse are factors that have a negative impact on these areas of the brain. These external insults cause a reduction in the rate of regeneration of brain cells as well as reduce the capability of nerve cells to form new connections with other cells. The net result of these processes is a reduction in cognitive and behavioral abilities.

Plant polyphenols are effective in reversing this damage. Polyphenols from plant sources include EGCG from green tea; chlorogenic acid found in tea, coffee, and cherries; and curcumin from turmeric. Polyphenols and anthocyanins (reddish purple pigments in berries) from blueberries are also found to reduce biochemical changes in nerve cells brought on by stress and anxiety. Anthocyanins from berries inhibit the enzyme monoamineoxidase which lowers the levels of dopamine and serotonin. Loss of these neurotransmitters results in depression. Countering the activity of monoamineoxidase is therefore likely to help prevent depression and other anxiety related disorders.  Most colorful vegetables and fruits are a good source of plant polyphenols, flavonoids and anthocyanins. These nutrients promote cell division in the brain which in turn supports the maintenance of normal cognitive and behavioral processes.

Regular consumption of plant-derived polyphenols as well as exercise may also help to keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay. This combination helps to maintain the ability of nerve cells to form new connections with each other and thereby keep the learning and memory processes active.

Research shows that dietary consumption of natural plant products like pomegranate juice is quite effective in reversing the damage caused by the deposition of the beta-amyloid peptide in addition to promoting cell regeneration. Although dietary intake of any natural food product is variable owing to food preferences, what is important here is frequency of consumption and not absolute amount consumed per meal. Also, since a large variety of polyphenols are available packaged in an equally large range of fruits and vegetables, people are not limited by food choices.

As it turns out, Mom was right. We need to eat our vegetables!


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Image via Subbotina Anna / Shutterstock.

Shefali Sabharanjak, PhD

Shefali Sabharanjak, PhD, is a professional science and medical writer. She holds a doctorate in Cell Biology from the National Center for Biological Sciences. Clear and precise communication is her forte.
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