Could this plant-based compound help fight Alzheimer’s?

Plant sterols may protect the brain.

Of all the major health concerns facing older Americans today, Alzheimer's disease may be one of the most ominous. Characterized by memory loss and other forms of cognitive decline, this condition now affects about one in eight Americans over the age of 65, and scientists are already apprehensive about this statistic given the rapidly aging Baby Boomer generation. But, this concern has been beneficial in some ways, spurring a surge of medical research that is helping us better understand this disease from one day to the next.

One recent discovery from Saarland University in Germany could be especially promising. According to a university press release, researchers have found that plant sterols – which are cholesterol-like compounds derived from nuts, seeds and plant oils – may be able to slow the growth of damaging brain plaques like amyloid-beta protein. This accumulation has long been viewed as one of the building blocks of Alzheimer's disease, so many past efforts have been focused on breaking it down or preventing its formation in the brain to begin with.

"The research team based at Saarland University's medical campus in Homburg collaborated with scientists from Bonn, Finland and the Netherlands to examine how the sterols that we ingest influence the formation of these plaque proteins," the source states.

The scientists looked at one specific plant sterol, stigmasterol, and found that it may be able to counter the production of amyloid-beta protein on many fronts. This discovery could be a boon for researchers, medical practitioners and older Americans alike – though further investigation is necessary before plant sterols may be introduced to Alzheimer's prevention and care.

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