Garlic may guard against aging-related brain diseases

The next time someone tells you you have garlic breath, just tell them you're protecting your brain against aging. A recent study from the University of Missouri indicates that a certain nutrient found in garlic may be able to protect against and even repair damage caused to brain cells by stress.

Common sources of the stress that causes brain damage and can eventually lead to diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's include smoking, pollution, alcohol consumption and traumatic brain injury. In response to these stressors, the body sends microglial cells to protect the area and prevent further damage, but as these cells multiply, they create nitric oxide, which is known to promote neurodegenerative disease.

Lead author Zezong Gu, associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and his associates created cell models of neurological stress and added a carbohydrate found in garlic called FruArg. They found that FruArg was able to limit the amount of nitric oxide produced by the microglial cells created in the stress model, and also promoted antioxidant production at the same time. Antioxidants also work to repair cell damage caused by stress. 

"'When stress was applied to the model, there was an expected increase in microglial cells and their byproduct, nitric oxide. However, once we applied FruArg, the microglial cells adapted to the stress by reducing the amount of nitric oxide they produced," Gu said in a statement. "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."

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