Yet Another Green Tea Health Benefit – Fighting Alzheimer’s

According to scientists everywhere – and just about every paper I’ve ever read on the topic – green tea has a nearly unlimited number of health benefits. We’re talking everything from helping people lose weight to reducing the amount of cholesterol absorbed through the bloodstream. Apparently it can even inhibit the growth of tumors, both in a Petrie dish and in live mice that have had human pancreatic cancer cells grafted into them.

thorThe source of the power of green tea is no mystery; it doesn’t come from the yellow sun and it doesn’t come from a hammer made of neutron stars. The molecule causing all this hype is known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate.

You might know it better as EGCG.

EGCG is the most abundant type of catechin found in tea, so long as the leaves are green and not black. And even then, you might not be getting as much of it as you think. Think of all those sugary, sweet, mass produced green tea drinks. Most of them barely have any of the stuff in them at all.

egcg2But of course, that is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to green tea. There’s probably a whole host of other benefits that science hasn’t even gotten around to, such as the ability to come back from the dead when smoked. (And you thought Longbottom leaf was a type of tobacco.) Or the ability to slow the affects of one of the most debilitating diseases of our lifetime – Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s that isn’t apparent to the naked eye is the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain. These are basically clumps of insoluble protein aggregates that come about through improperly folded proteins. They wreak all kinds of havoc on the nervous system by killing off the support system of the brain. They don’t just attack the nerves that send the signals, they attack the neural cells that support and protect the entire brain.

Whether or not these plaques are the cause of Alzheimer’s or just another product of the real underlying problem, however, remains a mystery. But one thing is for sure; While the overall body of research is ambiguous, some research has suggested that if you reduce the amount of plaque in the brain, you extend the quality of life for the patient.

There are a few things that science has revealed that help the human body achieve this end goal. Vitamin D, for one, has been found to help clear the plaques. Curcumin has also been shown to do the trick. But before you run out and sunbathe naked all day or eat Indian food every day (curcumin is found in turmeric), you might want to consider green tea.

Not worth it for the Vitamin D

Not worth it for the Vitamin D

In a recent study from the University of Michigan, researchers determined that the little superhero EGCG is able to thwart the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease as well. In the study, researchers found that EGCG prevents the misfolding of the specific proteins that lead to the aggregation of the plaque. What’s more, they’re most useful in preventing the build up of plaques that have metals attached to their molecular structures.

But besides this general finding, the paper went even further to determine what exactly was going on structurally at the molecular level. They discovered that EGCG binds to certain protein configurations and prevents them from building large complexes. The introduction of EGCG caused the formation of smaller chunks, which can then be more easily cleared by the body. The scientists expect that this fundamental insight on the structure-interaction-reactivity will, “undoubtedly aid in rational design and structure-based screening strategies to identify chemical tools to elucidate the contributions of multiple and/or interconnected factors in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis.”

egcg3In other words, it should help other scientists develop better ways to screen for the disease and come up with better ways to fight it. As for this group, their next step is to make a whole bunch of different, tiny modifications to EGCG and see which of the mutations works best on Alzheimer’s disease in fruit flies.

As for me, my next step is to start drinking more green tea.

The paper, “Insights into antiamyloidogenic properties of the green tea extract (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate toward metal-associated amyloid-beta species,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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2 Responses to Yet Another Green Tea Health Benefit – Fighting Alzheimer’s

  1. Emily Cronin-Furman says:

    Very interesting study! Point of clarification though–amyloid reducing therapies actually have not shown any consistent clinical effects. Some patients do improve but others do not. In fact, multiple studies of drugs targeting amyloid have been stopped due to patient safety concerns or lack of measurable effects (e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/business/eli-lilly-to-conduct-additional-study-of-alzheimers-drug.html?_r=0) Basically, the relationship between amyloid aggregation and disease pathogenesis is unclear. Although reducing aggregation may be beneficial to cell survival on the whole, there is not consistent data showing improvements in patients using this approach. The real question is what is causing the amyloid to aggregate in the first place….?

    • bigkingken says:

      Thanks for the insight and knowledge-drop, Emily! I originally tried to make the causation/correlation between plaques and Alzheimer’s effects controversy stronger, but then went and mucked it up by saying scientists were sure that reducing amyloid plaques leads to improved patient outcomes. Edits have been made to try to rectify the situation.

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