Could maple syrup extract be tapped for better brain health?

In preliminary laboratory based Alzheimer’s disease studies, phenolic-enriched extracts of maple syrup from Canada showed neuroprotective effects

As part of a 2-day symposium at this week’s annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, a group of international scientists are sharing promising results of 24 studies exploring the beneficial effects of natural products on the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

For the first time at this symposium, pure maple syrup was included among the health-giving functional foods that show promise in protecting brain cells against the kind of damage found in Alzheimer’s disease.

One study presented by Dr Donald Weaver from the Krembil Research Institute of the University of Toronto found that an extract of maple syrup may help to prevent the misfolding and clumping of two types of proteins found in brain cells – beta amyloid and tau peptide. When cellular proteins fold improperly and clump together, they accumulate and form the plaque that is involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

The other research presented at the symposium showed that a pure maple syrup extract prevented the fibrillation (tangling) of beta amyloid proteins and exerted neuroprotective effects in rodent’s microglial brain cells. Scientists have found that a decrease in microglial brain cell function is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems. The maple syrup extract also prolonged the lifespan of an Alzheimer’s roundworm model in vivo. The study was conducted out of the University of Rhode Island, in collaboration with researchers at Texas State University and was led by Dr Navindra P. Seeram, the symposium’s organiser.

Dr Seeram said: 'Natural food products such as green tea, red wine, berries, curcumin and pomegranates continue to be studied for their potential benefits in combatting Alzheimer’s disease. And now, in preliminary laboratory based Alzheimer’s disease studies, phenolic-enriched extracts of maple syrup from Canada showed neuroprotective effects, similar to resveratrol, a compound found in red wine. However, further animal and eventually human studies would be required to confirm these initial findings.'

These preliminary findings help to support discoveries made during the past few years on the inherent properties of pure maple syrup that comes directly from the sap of the maple tree, making it an all-natural product with unique health benefits.

Serge Beaulieu, President of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, is excited by the findings of the independent scientific studies and enthusiastic about the potential pure maple syrup may have on neurological health: 'The Federation and the 7300 Quebec maple enterprisers are committed to investing in scientific research to help better understand the link between food and health,' he said, adding: 'This has been demonstrated by a robust and carefully guided research programME that started in 2005 to explore the potential health benefits of pure maple syrup.'

He concluded: 'We already know that maple has more than 100 bioactive compounds, some of which have anti-inflammatory properties. Brain health is the latest topic of exploration and we look forward to learning more about the potential benefits that maple syrup might have in this area.' There are currently 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia; it is estimated by 2025 that will have risen to one million. The financial cost of dementia to the UK is calculated to be £26bn per annum.