A substance found in beets that gives the root vegetables their rich color could help to fight the brain damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study. The findings could open up new avenues of research for Alzheimer’s, a disease that is in desperate need of effective new treatments.
The compound, called betanin, affects the buildup of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. In the brain, beta-amyloid forms clumps, or plaques, that seem to choke off cells slowly and lead over time to the death of healthy brain cells.
“Our data suggest that betanin, a compound in beet extract, shows some promise as an inhibitor of certain chemical reactions in the brain that are involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Li-June Ming, a study author and chemistry professor at the University of South Florida. “This is just a first step, but we hope that our findings will encourage other scientists to look for structures similar to betanin that could be used to synthesize drugs that could make life a bit easier for those who suffer from this disease.”
The findings were presented at the 255th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans.
Earlier research has suggested that beets may have unique benefits for the brain, muscles and other organs. Beet juice may, some research suggests, boost oxygen flow to the brain, possibly leading to improvements in thinking and memory skills. Elite cyclists who ingested half a liter of beetroot juice before a ride were almost 3 percent faster, and produced more power with each stroke, than when they rode without drinking juice.
The current study looked at the effects of a beet extract on beta-amyloid bound to copper in test tubes. When the beet compound was present, there was substantially less oxidation of chemicals that may, in effect, produce “rust” in the brain.
“We can’t say that betanin stops the misfolding completely, but we can say that it reduces oxidation,” the authors notes. “Less oxidation could prevent misfolding to a certain degree, perhaps even to the point that it slows the aggregation of beta-amyloid peptides, which is believed to be the ultimate cause of Alzheimer’s.”
Scientists are studying a range of natural compounds to look for promising new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
Curcumin, for example, the yellow pigment in the herb turmeric and a key ingredient in curry spice, has also been shown to reduce the tendency of beta amyloid to form sticky clumps in the brains of mice that had been genetically altered to develop an Alzheimer’s-like illness. Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells from damage throughout the body, including the brain, and has inflammation-fighting properties. Increasingly, inflammation is thought to contribute to many maladies of old age, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
The need for effective treatments against Alzheimer’s is as urgent as ever. Current drugs may ease symptoms for a time but do nothing to stop the downward progression of disease. Drugs that effectively curb the progression of Alzheimer’s, or stop it from doing damage in the first place, are urgently needed.
Much more research will be needed to determine if, and how, beets may produce benefits for the human brain. And it will likely be years before new treatments are tested in people. But ongoing research is critical for opening up new avenues of investigation that may one day yield a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
By www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.
Source: American Chemical Society. Darrell Cole Cerrato, Ph.D., Li-June Ming, Ph.D., Presentation at the 255th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans. March 2018.