Under the Hood

Benefits Of Garlic Extract May Protect Brain From Inflammation, Diseases Like Alzheimer's

Garlic
A compound in aged garlic extract may protect the brain against damage caused by environmental stress. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

While we might throw around the “superfood” label a bit too casually these days, garlic is one food that fully deserves the title. Each clove contains a wealth of sulfuric compounds, which not only give them their scent but also antioxidant effects that confer benefits, from getting rid of acne to fighting infections. Now, a new study finds that one of these compounds, called FruArg, may protect the brain from age-related disease like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

As a carbohydrate derivative of garlic, there’s a relatively high concentration of FruArg in aged garlic extract (AGE), the authors wrote — AGE is typically sold as supplements. Looking at isolated FruArg’s impact on brain cells, researchers from the University of Missouri found it could protect brain cells from an overexcited immune response caused by environmental factors like pollution and smoking, as well as normal aging, brain injuries, and drinking lots of alcohol.

“Microglia are immune cells in the brain and spinal cord that are the first and main line of defense in the central nervous system,” said lead author Zezong Gu, an associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at the university’s School of Medicine. “Unlike other mature brain cells that seldom regenerate themselves, microglial cells respond to inflammation and environmental stresses by multiplying. By massing themselves and migrating toward an injury site, they are able to respond to inflammation and protect other brain cells from destruction.”

But microglia also tread a line between benefiting the body and harming it, protecting only to an extent. A byproduct of their function is nitric oxide, a free radical. And when a lot of microglia are produced, so are nitric oxide molecules, which can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation within the brain and nervous system. As we’ve all heard before, however, antioxidants fight oxidative stress, and in this case, that antioxidant compound is FruArg.

For their study, Gu and his colleagues applied stress to a cell model of microglial cells and then added FruArg to them once nitric oxide concentrations rose. They found the microglial cells “adapted to the stress by reducing the amount of nitric oxide they produced.” What’s more, FruArg also promoted the production of antioxidants, which then went on to protect and heal other brain cells. “This helps us understand how garlic benefits the brain by making it more resilient to the stress and inflammation associated with neurological diseases and aging,” Gu said.

Roughly five million Americans aged 65 and older live with Alzheimer’s disease, the most serious and common form of dementia, according to the National Institutes of Health. While the way it develops is still under investigation, current research suggests inflammation and free radicals are major factors, along with brain atrophy (shrinkage) and mitochondrial dysfunction, which causes energy within cells to die out. Scientists are constantly looking for ways to prevent the incurable disease; further studies might just find AGE is one of them.

Source: Zhou H, Qu Z, Mossine V, et al. Proteomic Analysis of the Effects of Aged Garlic Extract and Its FruArg Component on Lipopolysaccharide-Induced Neuroinflammatory Response in Microglial Cells. PLOS One. 2015. 

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