Apple a Day for Healthy Brain: Quercetin appears to protect cells from damage

A group of phytonutrients in apples could protect the brain from the type of damage that triggers such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsonism, according to two new studies from Cornell University food scientists. The studies show that the chemical quercetin appears to be largely responsible for protecting rat brain cells when assaulted by free radicals in laboratory tests.

Phytonutrients, such as phenolic acids and flavonoids, protect the apple against bacteria, viruses and fungi and provide the fruit’s antioxidant and anticancer benefits. Quercetin is a major flavonoid in apples. Antioxidants help prevent cancer by mopping up cell-damaging free radicals and inhibiting the production of reactive substances that could damage normal cells.

“The studies show that additional apple consumption not only may help reduce the risk of cancer, as previous studies have shown, but also that an apple a day may supply major bioactive compounds, which may play an important role in reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders,” says Chang Y. “Cy” Lee, Cornell professor of food science.

When Lee looked at quercetin, he found that it appeared to be the main agent responsible for the beneficial effect. In fact, he found quercetin works even better in protecting nerve cells against free radical damage than vitamin C, a naturally occurring antioxidant known to help prevent cell and tissue damage from oxidation. Quercetin is primarily found in apples, berries and onions.

Cornell University, Nov 17, 2004