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Grape Seeds May Combat Alzheimer's

Extracts found in seeds could be key in treating neurodegenerative diseases; clinical trials to begin

Posted: August 12, 2008

Compounds commonly found in red wine and grape seeds may help treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to new research from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that polyphenols derived from grape seeds during red winemaking (a family of compounds such as tannins, lignins and flavonoids) may be useful in fighting and preventing the degenerative disease, which attacks the brain. A four-month study, headed by Dr. Guilio Pasinetti, professor of neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, discovered that the polyphenols helped reduce the deterioration of brain functioning in the mice.

Pasinetti and his team gave nonlethal doses of grape seed extract to genetically modified mice that had attributes of Alzheimer's disease. In studying the cognitive functionality of the animals following treatment, the researchers found that the polyphenolic extract from grape seeds helped prevent the formation of a beta-amyloid, which can cause a blockage in the brain, or plaques that have been implicated in memory loss and Alzheimer's. Tested animals modified with Alzheimer's were found to retain their normal brain function after doses of the grape derivative.

"When we looked into the brains of the mice, we found that the grape seed extract was so beneficial that it almost completely prevented the typical characteristics of degeneration of the brain," said Pasinetti.

The evidence showing that red wine can be a major factor in the treatment and prevention of neurological diseases, including various forms of dementia, is becoming substantial. One recent study found that resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of grapes, can help offset the development of Alzheimer's disease in light to moderate wine drinkers, ages 65 and older, while researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University in Sweden found that women wine drinkers were less likely to suffer from dementia later in life. Most recently, another "wine drug" featuring resveratrol, developed by the pharmaceutical firm Sirtris, was found to help fight aging, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer in mice; clinical trials are now underway.

The focus on grape seeds is a different approach. Pasinetti and his team of researchers are currently designing their initial clinical study on humans, which will begin in approximately three months. Pasinetti is hopeful that further studies can help in the treatment of other neurological diseases, including Huntington's and other forms of dementia. The researchers recognize that there are other neurological problems, in addition to the buildup of beta-amyloids in the brain, that precipitate into Alzheimer's or other forms of auto-degenerative diseases such as dementia. Clinical tests will give them more insight into what stages of Alzheimer's benefit the most from the new treatment.

"As of now, we know that there are a fraction of polyphenolic compounds that are able to cross a blockage and reach the brain," said Pasinetti. "That will be the most important aspect in treating Alzheimer's disease."

The research was conducted by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Japan Human Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Alzheimer's Association. Another partner was Constellation Brands' polyphenolics division, which develops grape products and provided the team with grape seed materials. Constellation and Pasinetti's team are exploring the development of a grape seed pill that could replace a daily glass of wine for those patients who cannot have alcohol in their diet.

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