A recent study convincingly shows preventative and curative properties of EGCG, the “magic molecule” found in high concentrations in green tea, on Alzheimer-like neurodegeneration in mice. It carefully builds on over a decade of research on EGCG. Its new and exciting contribution is to open a pathway towards the use of a combination of today’s botanical compounds in reducing the risk of and spread of this dreadful malady rather than rely on a “magic bullet” pharmaceutical that at best will take ten years and $1.5 billion to develop.
It should not be interpreted as “green tea reverses Alzheimer’s.” However, it confirms that the rich store of antioxidants that green tea is packed with has potential medical powers. EGCG – and carrots– are part of prevention and possibly cure.
The research study was carried out by a team from the University of California at Berkley. It used 32 laboratory mice, bred to produce Alzheimer-like traits. They were randomly assigned to four treatment groups with an equal number of males and females in each. Thirty-two healthy mice were added across them. The treatments tested the impacts of a diet of EGCG and FA – ferulic acid – over a three-month period. FA is where carrots come in. Just as many fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of EGCG, FA is found in a wide range of foods, with carrots a major one. It’s been shown to provide health benefits, mainly in skincare, diabetes, and blood pressure management.
One group received EGCG, one FA and one neither, just a placebo. The fourth group was the one that makes this such a striking research study: EGCG plus FA. All the dosages were 30 milligrams per kilogram of weight. This is an amount that is well-tolerated in humans and easily-consumed as part of a healthy diet.
Before and after the special diet period, the mice were run through a series of neuropsychological tasks that approximated cognitive and memory ones applied to dementia patients. A key trial is a maze in the form of a Y. This tests the spatial working memory that humans use to find their way out of a building. The mice were in search of food or escape. Healthy ones showed a consistent trial and adjustment pattern. The diseased ones wandered aimlessly.
The results were unequivocal. “After three months, combination treatment [EGCG + FA] completely restored working memory and the Alzheimer’s mice performed just as well as the healthy comparison mice.” The careful design and randomization of the groups excluded bias and alternative factors as an explanation. The separate EGCG and FA diets produced lesser improvements.
That explanation draws on a decade of biogenetic research and progress in understanding aspects of Alzheimer’s. Prime suspects in the pathology of the disease are amyloid proteins generated around nerve cells. These break down into beta-amyloids that form a gummy plaque. This destroys the cells’ and synapses’ ability to form connections and creates tangles.
What brings EGCG to the forefront of molecular biology health research – and green teas to the headlines – is that it is a powerful anti-oxidant whose structure can be used to directly attack, block, trick and infiltrate malignant cells. The conjecture in the Alzheimer study is that the combination of EGCG and FA blocked the amyloids breaking up into plaque and reduced the oxidative stress and neuroinflammation that stimulates the pathology.
The biodynamics of EGCG have been widely investigated, with consistent conclusions. A 2007 Israeli study had first shown that EGCG reverses some nerve damage and stops brain cells dying. Earlier, in 2005, German researchers had shown that albumins in peanuts bind to and can carry EGCG as an anti-oxidant saboteur of cancer cells. Two reports in 2013, British and US, identified how green tea – and red wine, another rich source of anti-oxidants – distorts the shape of plaque balls so that they cannot bind. It was this year that a Swiss study introduced the Y-maze cognitive and memory test. A 2017 Canadian project was able to block the formation of pathological amyloids and “remodel” them.
Less focused work has highlighted the broader association between green tea and health. The populations of Asian nations that are high consumers are reported in two studies to have a 20-30% lower risk of dementia – among those who drink more than five cups a day.
The UCB report stresses its limitations, most particularly that results from studies of mice often do not transfer to humans. It’s not a clinical trial and excludes such considerations as the downside of heavy green tea dosages; they decrease folic acid levels and interfere with iron absorption.
Overall, this is good science, well-grounded in theory and practice, and with encouraging results. It’s reminiscent of the search for an AIDS cure. First, it adds support to the view that Alzheimer’s will be beaten, and that the solution is likely to be a combination cure rather than a single “magic bullet.” A special unique implication is that much of the treatment doesn’t have to be better living through chemistry but just healthy eating and drinking, starting now and not having to wait a decade for a pill or immunotherapy procedure.
Sources: Science Daily, Amazing Green Tea, Google Scholar science journal abstracts, WebMD