Pick Apples for Good Neurological Health

If you think that picking and eating apples is just for fun and for the great taste, think again. According to a collection of recent research studies, apples and apple juice may be among the best foods you could add to your diet. The findings were presented at the Society of Neuroscience annual conference in Atlanta in January.

Researchers found that quercetin (one of the antioxidants found abundantly in apples) was one of two compounds that helped to reduce cellular death that is caused by oxidation and inflammation of neurons. This conclusion was previously confirmed not just by testing quercetin by itself, but by using apples as a whole food. Published in the May 2006 issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine, researcher Eric Gershwin, MD discovered a way in which flavonoid-rich apples and apple juice protect cells from damage. Gershwin exposed human cells to an extract of apple mash made from different apple varieties, similar to outcomes presented at the Society of Neuroscience meeting. The UC Davis researcher then challenged these cells by exposing them to tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a protein-like compound found in the body that usually triggers cell death and promotes inflammation via a mechanism called the “nuclear factor kappa B pathway” (this pathway involves chemical signaling between cells). Apple extract protected the cells from the normally lethal effects of TNF by interfering with this pathway, which would otherwise damage or kill cells in the body.

Other more recent research demonstrated how apples and apple juice can help boost neurological health, specifically in the brain. The latest study from the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML), published in the August 2006 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, indicates that apple juice consumption may actually increase the production in the brain of the essential neurotransmitter acetylcholine, resulting in improved memory among mice who have Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.

Neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine are chemicals released from nerve cells that transmit messages to other nerve cells. This communication between nerve cells is vital for overall good health, not just in the brain. In addition to finding the improved levels of acetylcholine in their brains, “it was surprising how the animals on the apple-enhanced diets actually did a superior job on the maze tests than those not on the apple-supplemented diet,” remarked Dr. Thomas Shea, who led the research.

Shea, who is the director of the UML Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegeneration, published yet another study in the December 2005 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in which older mice (not mice with Alzheimer’s like conditions) performed significantly better on memory tests than did animals whose diet was not enriched with apple products. Both of these studies, along with a similar study published by Shea in the February 2004 issue of Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, strongly suggest that apples must possess a unique mix of antioxidants that improve cognition and memory via inhibition of oxidation in the brain.

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