The researchers in New Zealand found that anthocyanins, potent antioxidants and the cause of the black colour of blackcurrants, could stop oxidative stress of human cell cultures.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and currently affects over 13 million people worldwide. The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer care is over $100 billion (€81 billion) in the US alone. The direct cost of Alzheimer care in the UK was estimated at £15 billion (€22 billion).
Although the mechanism of Alzheimer's is not clear, more support is gathering for the build-up of plaque from amyloid deposits. The deposits are associated with an increase in brain cell damage and death from oxidative stress.
It is against the oxidative stress that the anthocyanins and other berry polyphenol appear to offer protection.
The team of scientists tested the effect of the blackcurrant extracts against oxidative stress from hydrogen peroxide on human brain cancer cell cultures (SH-SY5Y neuroblaster cells and HL-60 cells).
The data, published on-line in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (doi: 10.1002/jsfa.2409), showed that the SH-SY5Y cells were completely protected from oxidative stress.
The blackcurrant extracts were also better than US boysenberries at protecting the DNA of the HL-60 cell cultures.
Although this work was performed with cell cultures and many questions remain whether such compounds would be equally effective in living human brains, the scientists are already eyeing possibilities in the functional food market.
"The phenolic extract of blackcurrant demonstrated the highest protective effect against hydrogen peroxide induced neurotoxicity, oxidative stress and DNA damage and may be a good candidate for inclusion into a processed functional food," concluded the researchers.
This is not the first time that currents and berries have been linked with protecting brain cells. Blueberries have been shown to reduce brain cell loss in rats and improved recovery of movement after a stroke.