Polyphenol extract helps elderly subjects cut their 'mental age'

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Polyphenol extract helps elderly subjects cut their 'mental age'
A polyphenol rich extract of grape and blueberry has been shown to improve a specific memory marker among older subjects suffering from cognitive decline. The results were characterized as having lowered the subjects' ‘mental age.’

In a study published in a gerontology journal, French and Canadian researchers looked at the effects of the consumption of a specific extract on memory. The researchers noted that preclinical work in a rodent model had shown that berries, berry extracts or isolated flavonoids could arrest age related cognitive decline. They also noted that two RCTs done in humans have shown that grape and blueberry polyphenols showed improvements in spatial and verbal memory scores.

Healthy subjects with mild ARCD

In the present study, researchers recruited 215 healthy males and females between the ages of 60 to 70. The subjects fell in a BMI range of 20 to 30. Cognitive scores were taken at baseline to identify a population that fell into the mild cognitive decline range and to avoid subjects with unusually powerful powers of recall.

The researchers sought out subjects with a midrange level of polyphenols intake in their typical diet. That was defined as two or less servings of red fruit a week, one cup or less of tea per day and less than 140 grams of dark chocolate per week. Individuals with high intakes of omega-3s were excluded from the study. Also excluded were subjects who habitually used dietary supplements that could have an effect on memory performance.

Subjects in the double blinded, placebo controlled study took 300 mg of the grape and blueberry extract or a placebo in two capsules per day for 24 weeks. They had three visits with the researchers: a screening visit, a baseline measurement session, and a final wrap up. The subjects’ urine samples were also analyzed.

The subjects also performed a battery of memory function tests. The primary outcome the researchers were measuring was something called the CANTAB Paired Associate Learning (PAL). The Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery is a visuospatial learning and episodic memory test developed at the University of Cambridge in the UK in the 1980s.

Secondary outcomes included verbal episodic and recognition memory (VRM) and working memory (SSP).

Lowest quartile showed benefit

The initial results showed no effect of the extract on the PAL scores across the group. Further statistical work revealed a quartile of lowest cognitive performance, which the researchers referred to as the ‘decliners.’ Among this group, the extract did show an improvement in VRM.

“While not showing significant improvement of the primary outcome in the whole population after a 6-month supplementation with PEGB, the present study demonstrated a positive effect on verbal episodic memory, on a subset of this population, healthy elderly with a lower level of memory performance. Our results also suggest that monomers of flavan-3-ols ((epi)catechins), and their conjugated metabolites are important to maintain the integrity of episodic memory systems and that it may be necessary to consume a minimum level to reach this effect,”​ they said.

An interesting side note to the memory measure was that this subgroup was found to have excreted more polyphenol metabolites in their urine. 

“Urinary concentrations of specific flavan-3-ols metabolites were associated, at the end of the intervention, with the memory improvements. Our study demonstrates that PEGB improves age-related episodic memory decline in individuals with the highest cognitive impairments,”​ the researchers noted.

Barry Ritz PhD, chief scientific officer of Atrium Innovations, noted the study was the culmination of a multi-year research effort on the extract, which the company has commercialized as Neurophenol.  The research project has been done in conjunction with the Laval University in Quebec and the University of Bordeaux in France. Ritz said it was not unexpected that the researchers would need to stratify the data to drill down to the precise effects the extract was having.

“One that’s important was to focus on health elderly subjects. It was the poorer performing subjects that had the most room for improvement and showed the most improvement,” ​Ritz told NutraIngredients-USA. 

Years of data back ‘mental age’ claim

Ritz said using longstanding measures like the CANTAB PAL test  that is backed by years’ worth of data means the results can with good validity be ranked against how certain age groups typically perform. That allows Atrium to make the ‘mental age’ comparison claim, he said.

“Subjects who were performing like 83 year olds at the beginning, they were performing like 69 year olds at the end,” ​he said.

Ritz noted that the ‘decliners,’ those that showed the most improvement, also seemed to be the lustiest metabolizers of polyphenols, judged by how much metabolites were measured in their urine. That might point to the differences between individual subjects.

“There is a lot of runway for future research on this extract. We don’t know a lot about polyphenol metabolism, and this observation might show the personalized nutrition aspect.  Some people might just need more polyphenols,” ​he said.

In addition to the support from Atrium, the research was supported by public funds from the French government, the European Union and the province and city of Quebec.

Source:The Journals of Gerontology; Biological and Medical Sciences
2018 Jul 19. doi: 10.1093/gerona/gly166. [Epub ahead of print]
“Polyphenols from grape and blueberry improve episodic memory in healthy elderly with lower level of memory performance: a bicentric double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study.”
Authors: Bensalem J, Dudonné S, Etchamendy N, et al.

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