The next time you add herbs and vegetables such as parsley, thyme, chamomile and red pepper to your food, you could be warding off diseases such as schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. According to researchers at the D’Or Institute for Research and Education, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the Federal University of Bahia, the flavonoid apigenin, which is found in those particular plants, has the ability to improve the formation of neurons, and strengthen the connections between the cells in the brain.
While previous experiments carried out on animals have already shown that flavonoids can have positive effects on memory and learning, and also have the potential to enhance and preserve brain function, this is the first piece of research to demonstrate the positive effects of apigenin on human cells. Furthermore, it’s the first research that has been able to unravel its mechanism. By simply applying apigenin to human stem cells in a Petri dish, within 25 days they develop into neurons. Furthermore, after treatment with apigenin, the neurons made much stronger and more sophisticated links between each other. The researchers explained that creating strong connections between neurons is a key part of ensuring good brain function, consolidation of memories and the ability to learn.
The hope is to develop future treatments based around apigenin as an alternative to estrogen-based treatments
The scientists were able to show that apigenin works by binding to the estrogen receptors in the brain, a group of hormones which delay the onset of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, and which play a large part in the development, maturation, plasticity and function of the nervous system. Currently estrogen-based therapies are not usually used as they present an increased risk of side effects such as cardio-vascular problems and tumours.
This new research by the Brazilian team offers hope for developing future treatments based around apigenin as an alternative to estrogen-based treatments, particularly as flavonoids are found in high quantities in certain foods. So it could mean that something as simple as changing your diet to eat foods containing apigenin could influence the way in which your neurons are regenerated and the strength with which they communicate within your brain.
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