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Eating Apples and Drinking Apple Juice Today
May Protect Brain Health Tomorrow
LOWELL, MASS. - Want to keep your brain on its toes? Then you may want to keep in mind that old adage about "an apple a day." New research from the University of Massachusetts Lowell suggests that apple juice may protect against oxidative damage that contributes to age-related brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, and may help to maintain brain performance - indicating that eating apples and drinking apple juice may impact our brain's health and mental acuity throughout life.
"This is incredible food for thought," says lead researcher Thomas B. Shea, Ph.D., director of the University of Massachusetts Lowell's Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegeneration Research, whose work on mice has just been published in the February issue of the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging.
While he cautions his findings in animals are preliminary and more research is needed, Shea characterizes these results as very encouraging news about brain health for apple and apple juice fans of all ages who are interested in staying mentally sharp.
Shea and his colleagues assessed whether the consumption of apple juice was protective against oxidative brain damage that results from normal metabolism, dietary insufficiencies or genetic deficiencies.
"Our results suggest that something in apple juice appears to protect the brain against oxidative damage, and improves cognitive performance in these animals, even when we impose dietary or genetic challenges," said Dr. Shea. "We think that this 'something' is the apple's naturally high level of antioxidants."
The researchers evaluated normal adult mice as well as mice that carry a gene associated with diseases like Alzheimer's. Groups of both types of mice were exposed to either a "complete" diet including known antioxidants, or a "deficient" diet that is thought to increase oxidative damage. Some mice in each group then received apple juice concentrate in concentrations of 0.1, 0.5 or 1.0 percent in their drinking water. Other mice received sugar water to approximate the concentrate's natural sugar and energy content.
After one month on the test diets, the animals were put through two different well-established maze tests to determine their memory and learning capabilities. Mice who consumed the diets augmented with apple juice tended to perform better on the maze tests and all had less oxidative brain damage than the controls. In fact, adding apple juice to the diet completely protected the normal mice from the oxidative damage caused by the deficient diet - and protected the genetically-deficient mice from both their genetic predisposition and the deficient diet, allowing them to perform at the same level as normal mice being fed the complete diet.
Although the UMass Lowell researchers did not study what components in apples were responsible for the neuroprotective effects demonstrated, they ruled out sugar and energy content, suggesting that the antioxidant potential of apple juice was responsible.
The results obtained were from moderate amounts of apple juice--comparable to drinking approximately a couple of good-sized glasses of apple juice or eating a couple of apples a day. The findings also suggest that apple juice was most helpful in the framework of an overall healthy diet.
Research has shown that apples are a rich source of antioxidants; Cornell University researchers reported in the journal Nature in 2000 that one apple packs more cancer-fighting antioxidant capability than a 1,500-milligram dose of vitamin C.
"This research suggests that eating apples and drinking apple juice, in conjunction with a balanced diet, can protect the brain from the effects of stress - and that we should eat such antioxidant-rich foods," said Shea.
This study was sponsored through an unrestricted grant by the U.S. Apple Association and the Apple Products Research and Education Council. The study confirms and expands upon an earlier study (Ortiz and Shea) accepted for publication in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
More information and complete text of the published article can be found on www.uml.edu/dept/Biology/tshea/index.htm.