Published on: May 24, 2013
by Red Orbit:
Two compounds found in cinnamon could play a role in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and could even prevent the neurodegenerative condition, according to new research published online in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on Thursday.
The study authors, Roshni George and Donald Graves of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), explained that the compounds cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin have shown promise in fighting Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. They said that those substances have been shown to prevent the formation of the development of the filamentous “tangles” found in the brain cells that characterize the disease.
According to the researchers, a protein known as tau is responsible for the assembly of microtubules in a cell, and it also plays a vital role in the structure and function of neurons. However, in Alzheimer’s, the protein begins “aggregating,” George explained. When tau does not bind properly to the microtubules which form the cell’s structure, it tends to clump together, ultimately knotting together and forming insoluble fibers in a neuron.
The use of cinnamaldehyde, an oil that is responsible for the sweet smell of cinnamon, can help prevent those tau tangles from forming. The substance protects the protein from oxidative stress, preventing the protein’s aggregation by binding to two residues from the amino acid cysteine on the tau protein. Those amino acid residues are vulnerable to modifications, the researchers said, and play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Take, for example, sunburn, a form of oxidative damage. If you wore a hat, you could protect your face and head from the oxidation. In a sense this cinnamaldehyde is like a cap,” explained Graves, an adjunct professor in UCSB’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. He added that it can protect the protein by binding to the vulnerable cysteine residues, but that it can also be removed, ensuring the protein is functioning properly.
The other substance, epicatechin, is a powerful antioxidant also found in other foods, including blueberries and chocolate. It can help combat oxidative stress, and is actually activated as a result of oxidation so that it can interact with cysteines on the tau protein similar to the way cinnamaldehyde protects them.
“Studies indicate that there is a high correlation between Type 2 diabetes and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease,” the university explained. “The elevated glucose levels typical of diabetes lead to the overproduction of reactive oxygen species, resulting in oxidative stress, which is a common factor in both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Other research has shown cinnamon’s beneficial effects in managing blood glucose and other problems associated with diabetes.”
“Since tau is vulnerable to oxidative stress, this study then asks whether Alzheimer’s disease could benefit from cinnamon, especially looking at the potential of small compounds,” George added. She added that, while the results of their work have been promising thus far, she and Graves are “still a long way from knowing whether this will work in human beings.” They also warn against ingesting more cinnamon than typically used in cooking.
Image Credit: cRutigliano / Shutterstock
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