By Akam Anyangwe

Dementia is a loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living, lasting more than six months, not present since birth, and not associated with a loss or alteration of consciousness.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases.Vascular dementia, which occurs after arteriosclerosis, insulin resistance or a stroke, is the second most common form. The prevalence of Dementia doubles every 5 years in older populations above 60, with about 1% of people between ages 60 and 64, and between 30% and 50% of those age 85 and older being affected. Dementia is however not part of normal ageing. Risk of dementia can be reduced by improving physical activity, nutrition, and maintaining social contacts.

Cause:  At the heart of dementia is the death of brain cells. In Alzheimer´s disease, the brain is compromised by deposits of abnormal proteins which formamyloid plaques and tau tangles, eventually killing the neurons.

Vascular dementia is caused by a severe reduction of blood flow to the brain, as a result of arteries losing their physiological function, e.g. in arteriosclerosis. This can happen as a result of accumulation of cholesterol and other substances in the walls of blood vessels, leading to hardening as well as narrowing of the arteries, also known as small vessel disease.

Stunning results released in a Chinese study revealed that almost 30% of older adults in Hong Kong have severe small vessel disease (SVD) with a 3.47 times higher risk of developing dementia 3 years after a minor stroke of the brain.

With such staggering numbers, research has been intensifying over the last decade to identify ways to better manage, or prevent dementia.

At the forefront of this research is German Professor Günter Siegel, who works at the Charité University Clinic in Berlin. Prof. Siegel´s research on human brain arteries has produced very promising initial results.

In a research paper which was presented to the American Heart Association, Prof. Siegel investigated the effects of anthocyanins on the flow-dependent dilatation of human brain blood vessels. He postulated that anthocyanins from a blackcurrant extract may have beneficial effects on Alzheimer dementiae via other target points than cholesterol. For his research, Prof. Siegel used a membrane enriched blackcurrant extract supplied by Italian fruit processing companyIprona AG under their “BerryPharma®”-brand to test its effects on the arteries, compared to a placebo.

According to the results, there was a 40.4% reduction in tension, a 45.2% increase in flow-dependent relaxation, and an estimated 50.7% rise in blood perfusion under blackcurrant extract.

Further treating the blood vessels with the blackcurrant extract led to a reduction of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) plaques by 5.9%, plaque formation with β-amyloid by 11.6% and calcified Alzheimer nanoplaque formation by 17.3%.

Professor Siegel concluded that

“the flow experiments impressively show that blackcurrant extract clearly improves endothelial function by an additional NO release. This vasodilatation together with the reduction of Alzheimer nanoplaque neoformation, detected here for the first time as a novel pleiotropic action of blackcurrant extract, may have a beneficial effect on the cognitive functions in dementiae of the Alzheimer type, in the prevention of transient ischemic attack and stroke”.

While research in this field might be in its early stages, there´s no doubt that polyphenol-rich fruits like blackcurrant, elderberry and aronia berries will play an increasingly important role in the diet-based management and prevention of chronic illnesses that affect the brain and the cardiovascular system.

Prof. Siegel`s work supported by Iprona AG adds more weight to the increasing scientific consensus that aims to shift the focus from treatment of cardio-cerebro-vascular-related chronic illnesses, to prevention and mitigation, using diet.