EL PASO – Imagine a place where drinking a glass of milk and munching on cheese and crackers is all you need to prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
According to Dr. Mahesh Narayan’s, associate professor of chemistry at The University of Texas at El Paso, this fairy tale scenario could soon be a reality.
In recent studies, Narayan has shown that everyday spices such as turmeric, most commonly found in Indian food, neem, almond oil and the creosote bush hold the potential for unlocking the key ingredients in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.
“The long term prospect for us is to actually lace everyday food, such as potato chips, milk, cheese, etc., with these ethno-pharmaceuticals, and then have them neuro-protect you without you even knowing,” said Narayan, a native of India.
Experiments with curcumin, a polyphenol in turmeric, show the potential of these kitchen table ingredients in the intervention of a brain process called “protein misfolding” (see video for explanation) that is most commonly known to cause many neurodegenerative diseases.
Specifically, Alzheimer’s [AD] and Parkinson’s [PD] disease spread through free radical attack. Narayan said polyphenols are good at scavenging free radicals to try and prevent the progress of the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This is why spices like turmeric are used.
All the spices are unrelated but all four hold extracts that are rich in polyphenol. “The more we exploit the more possibilities,” said Narayan.
Currently, Narayan is working with Dr. Edward Castaneda, chair and professor of psychology and Dr. Manuel-Arrango, assistant professor of biological sciences, at UTEP. Their mutual goal is to have an animal model that will evaluate the effects of polyphenols in diminishing and or preventing neurodegenerative diseases.
“If you develop a drug that is useful for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, you don’t know if it will be useful unless you investigate the behavioral effects of that drug,” said Castaneda, speaking of his future contributions to Narayan’s research.
According to Castaneda, his contribution is encompassed in utilizing animal models to assess the behavioral abilities of rats with protein misfolding. The official date for animal testing has not been set but Castaneda predicts the process may begin in the next few months.
In the subcontinent of Asia and India it is difficult to find anyone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, Narayan says. India’s incidence of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is one-sixth that of the United States. He said he discovered this is because the diets of people in India and the Asian subcontinent are rich in spices with polyphenols.
Aside from diet there are a couple of reasons for the absence of AD and PD in this part of the world. One theory is the active walking lifestyle of the Indian population compared to the sedentary lifestyle of most Americans. Secondly, the lifespan in the United States is longer compared to that of India’s average lifespan of 60 to 65 years. Normally, the rise of AD and PD spikes at 63, according to Narayan, and the possibility of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is known to increase with aging which is the greatest risk factor for the diseases.
The Food and Drug Administration has recently posted the authorization of faster new treatments for the approval of drugs that might slow or prevent Alzheimer’s and many other illnesses.
This means great news for Narayan, Castaneda and Miranda-Arango. Currently their research has been awarded $100,000 through the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Foundation, the El Paso Pain Center, specifically Holly Vazquez and Dr. Eduardo Vazquez, and other private donations.
Narayn’s vision may be here sooner than expected.
“The ingredients are mild,” Narayn said. “We hope they are incorporated into diets and the general population is neuro protected without them having to do much about it,” he said.