An Apple for Alzheimer’s?

We’ve always been told ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ and now there’s evidence that an apple a day might just keep your brain as healthy as your body.

Scientists have long heralded consumption of apples with reduced risk of developing a myriad of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and type 2 diabetes. Now, we can add protecting your brain to that list.

A University of Massachusetts-Lowell (UMass-Lowell) research team led by Dr. Thomas Shea has uncovered a wide range of brain-protective effects in apples and apple juice that accompany aging and contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. The research is discussed in the November/December 2009 issue of “AgroFOOD Industry High-Tech.”

“Our studies, like similar studies from other laboratories, provide evidence that good nutrition can help maintain a healthy brain, even in the face of genetic risk factors that may otherwise cause a decline in brain function in adult life and aging,” Shea said.

Nine published studies from Shea’s group, discussed within this review article, demonstrate that eating apples or drinking apple juice may improve cognition (the ability to know or understand), reduce hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, and improve mood and behavior in persons with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Animal studies from Shea’s laboratory showed that apple juice improved cognitive performance and increased acetylcholine levels, a neurotransmitter that is essential to thought and memory functions. According to the researchers, the findings suggest that apple juice can impact cognition by boosting neurotransmitter levels. 

Research summarized in the review shows that apple juice helped prevent the increase in oxidative damage to the brain (which contributes to a decline in cognition) that is commonly seen with aging and with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease in mice.  In one study, the brain tissue of mice consuming apple juice on a daily basis appeared to reduce levels of beta-amyloid, the protein that forms “senile plaques,” in Alzheimer’s disease. 

Findings from a study at UMass-Lowell are also included in the review. Among 21 individuals with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers report that consumption of two 4-ounce glasses of apple juice daily for one month reduced behavioral and psychotic symptoms associated with dementia by 27 percent. The largest changes were seen in reducing anxiety levels, agitation and delusion. The findings suggest that apple juice may be a useful adjunct therapy for reducing the decline in mood that typically accompanies the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  Further details of these studies will appear in a forthcoming issue of “The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.”

“While more research is certainly needed, these findings hold a lot of promise for future use in helping to treat signs of cognitive decline,” noted Sarah Wally, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the Apple Products Research and Education Council. 

Why apples? According to the researchers, it remains unclear which components of apples (and apple juice) are responsible for the beneficial effects. The researchers do suggest, however, that the mechanisms responsible likely extend beyond the antioxidant activity of apple polyphenols [m] health-promoting substances naturally present in the fruit.

“This is great news for the apple industry and adds to evidence that the age-old saying ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is true,” noted Allison Parker, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the U.S. Apple Association.

For more information on the health benefits of apples and apple juice, visit and
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