When I happened upon the recent research about apples and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), I became curious about whether apples have health benefits Alzheimer’s prevention or treatment.
My preliminary Internet search revealed comments on the relationship between apples and Alzheimer’s dating back to 2004. And one research team was particularly noteworthy: the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Thomas Shea, Ph.D.
As you may know, those with Alzheimer’s disease gradually accumulate beta-amyloid in their brains—tiny molecules of fibrous protein that get all tangled up within the brain’s nerve cells. Over time, this entanglement causes neurodegeneration and cognitive dysfunction.
Studies on Apples and Alzheimer’s Prevention
Multiple animal and laboratory studies conducted at Lowell have shown that apple juice consumption avoided the cognitive decline that was otherwise observed as mice aged. They were much better at negotiating mazes, and other parameters one would measure if you were a mouse.
In 2008, Lowell researchers team documented that apple juice-drinking mice produced less beta-amyloid after one month. After controlling for other variables, it was inferred that the antioxidant properties in the apples and their juice was responsible for the improvements.
Investigators suggested that at least two apples a day, or two glasses of the juice, could similarly delay the onset of the disease for humans, and this speculation was likely the rationale for their 2010 pilot study.
Twenty-one people, ages 72 to 93, who were institutionalized at two Massachusetts nursing homes with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease were given two 4-ounce glasses of apple juice daily for one month. While there were no significant gains in their cognitive functioning, their caregivers did acknowledge what investigators reported as a 27 percent improvement in their behavioral and psychotic symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
This preliminary finding that apple juice can affect mood for those with Alzheimer’s disease—who suffer with depression and anxiety, as well as symptoms of anger and frustration with their condition—is cause for larger clinical trials over longer periods of time. This result suggests that 100 percent apple juice may be a useful supplement in Alzheimer’s treatment, with a potential to lessen caregiver stress as well.
In fact, I understand that the Alzheimer’s Association has given $240,000 to Dr. Shea for future research on apples and Alzheimer’s treatment. Good news!
PBS has also done a six-minute segment on the apples health benefits. There are great tips on how to care for your apples—like storing them in the refrigerator and not out in a bowl, and keeping them away from strong-smelling produce like onions and garlic, which they will absorb. But the best part is an interview (3.5 minutes into the six) with Dr. Shea discussing his findings about apple juice concentrate administered to people with Alzheimer’s.
Nutritional Formula for Alzheimer’s Prevention
In the meantime, Dr. Shea and his team have a 2010 publication of their clinical trials comparing a nutritional formula they developed with placebo in adults without dementia. The formula they used consisted of acetyl-l-carnitine, B12, folic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and vitamin E.
This formula had previously been shown to enhance cognitive performance. In fact, improvements were noted after two weeks, with further gains after three-month trial, and observed in those in a six-month trial period. Plus, cognitive improvement was lost when the formula was withdrawn, and regained when the formula was re-administered. Unfortunately, those participants 74 years of age or older showed no cognitive gains on the formula.
This finding is consistent with what I have observed, that nutritional support in younger years is key to Alzheimer’s prevention. I concur with the researcher team’s speculation that aging may affect the body’s ability to absorb such nutrients—which we know with co-factors like CoQ10.
In the case of vitamin/antioxidant CoQ10, the endogenous production by the body drops off with each decade of life, and so higher doses may be needed to achieve the same clinical benefits as we age.
For now, the clinical evidence is enough to advise that two apples a day (or the equivalent in juice] is a smart move in Alzheimer’s prevention. I get mine when I juice each morning.