Could eating berries improve Alzheimer’s symptoms?


Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder, which slowly deteriorates memory and thinking skills, eventually leading to the inability to carry out basic tasks. There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, the rise in Alzheimer’s sufferers has led to an increase in research studies carried out to find possible ways to alleviate symptoms, with FoodNavigator recently reporting on the potential benefits of adopting the Ketogenic diet as a means of delaying the early signs of Alzheimer’s​ disease.

Now, a new study from the University of Copenhagen suggests that a substance, which occurs naturally in berries such as pomegranates, strawberries and raspberries, could help to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder, which slowly deteriorates memory and thinking skills, eventually leading to the inability to carry out basic tasks. There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not yet fully understood, although a number of factors, including age, family history and untreated depression, are thought to increase the risk of developing the condition.

Pomegranates - Juice - GettyImages-fcafotodigital

Study suggests eating berries, such as pomegranates, could improve Alzheimer’s symptoms. GettyImages/fcafotodigital

Could a substance in berries help to improve Alzheimer’s symptoms?

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have conducted a study on the effects of Urolithin A, a naturally occurring substance in berries, such as pomegranates, strawberries and raspberries, on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

“Our study on mouse models with Alzheimer’s disease shows that Urolithin A, which is a naturally occurring substance in pomegranates, can alleviate memory problems and other consequences of dementia,” says Vilhelm Bohr, affiliate professor at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Copenhagen. “Even though the study was conducted on mouse models, the prospects are positive. So far, research has shown promising results for the substance in the muscles, and clinical trials on humans are being planned.”

The research team had previously discovered that a specific molecule, Nicotinamide Riboside (NAD supplement), plays a key role in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as it actively helps remove damaged mitochondria from the brain.

“Many patients with neurodegenerative diseases experience mitochondrial dysfunction, also known as mitophagy,” said Professor Bohr. “This means that the brain has difficulties removing weak mitochondria, which thus accumulate and affect brain function. If you are able to stimulate the mitophagy process, removing weak mitochondria, you will see some very positive results.”

This new study, focusses on the effects of Urolithin A on mitochondria, finding that it successfully removes weak mitochondria from the brain. Furthermore, it was as effective as NAD supplements.

What is Urolithin A?

Urolithin A (UA) is a gut-microbiome-derived postbiotic metabolite of ellagitannins, polyphenolic compounds present in foods such as pomegranates, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cloudberries, walnuts and peanuts.

Walnuts - GettyImages-syolacan

Eating nuts, such as walnuts, is also believed to improve Alzheimer’s symptoms. GettyImages/syolacan

The research team highlighted that they have not yet been able to identify the amount of Urolithin A needed to improve memory and alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

“We still cannot say anything conclusive about the dosage. But I imagine that it is more than a pomegranate a day,” explained Professor Bohr. “However, the substance is already available in pill form, and we are currently trying to find the right dosage.”

The team is also looking at the potential for Urolithin A to be used, for preventive purposes, with no significant side effects.

“The advantage of working with a natural substance is the reduced risk of side effects,” adds Professor Bohr. “Several studies so far show that there are no serious side effects of NAD supplementation. Our knowledge of Urolithin A is more limited, but as I mentioned, clinical trials with Urolithin A have been effective in muscular disease, and now we need to look at Alzheimer’s disease. 

“If we are going to eat something in the future to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, which we talk a lot about, we have to make sure there are no significant side effects.”

As well as pomegranates, strawberries and raspberries, Urolithin A is also naturally occurring in nuts such as walnuts and peanuts.

Source: Urolithin A improves Alzheimer’s disease cognition and restores mitophagy and lysosomal functions
Published online: 16 May 2024
Authors: Yujun Hou, Xixia Chu, Jae-Hyeon Park et al.


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