Alzheimer's disease can be slowed and some of its symptoms curbed by punicalagin, a natural compound, found in pomegranate, according to a study in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.
Alzheimer's affects up to 44.4 million people globally.
The two-year project headed by University of Huddersfield scientist Dr. Olumayokun Olajide also found that the painful inflammation that accompanies illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson's disease could be reduced.
The punicalagin polyphenol can inhibit inflammation in specialized brain cells known as micrologia, according to the results. This inflammation leads to the destruction of more and more brain cells, making the condition of Alzheimer's sufferers progressively worse.
There is still no cure for the disease, but the punicalagin in pomegranate could prevent it or slow down its development.
Olajide worked with co-researchers at the University of Huddersfield's Department of Pharmacy and with scientists at the University of Freiburg in Germany. The team used brain cells isolated from rats in order to test their findings so it is still unclear what amounts of pomegranate are required in order to be effective.
"But we do know that regular intake and regular consumption of pomegranate has a lot of health benefits – including prevention of neuro-inflammation related to dementia," he says, recommending juice products that are 100 per cent pomegranate, meaning that approximately 3.4 per cent will be punicalagin, the compound that slows down the progression of dementia.
Olajide states that most of the anti-oxidant compounds are found in the outer skin of the pomegranate, not in the soft part of the fruit. And he adds that although this has yet to be scientifically evaluated, pomegranate will be useful in any condition for which inflammation – not just neuro-inflammation – is a factor, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's and cancer.
Olajide and organic chemist Dr. Karl Hemming will attempt to produce compound derivatives of punicalagin that could the basis of new, orally administered drugs that would treat neuro-inflammation.