Compounds in green tea and chocolate may help relieve the cognitive impairment experienced by HIV patients, according to new research.
Researcher Joseph Steiner and a research team at Johns Hopkins University discovered that a group of plant polyphenols (or chemicals) known as catechins — which naturally occur in green tea and the cacao seed — may help prevent neurological complications caused by HIV.
So far, medications have been unable to help with these problems.
Prior research has demonstrated the importance of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its support for the survival and growth of neurons in the brain.
BDNF is active in areas of the brain vital to learning, memory and higher thinking. HIV patients have lower levels of this protein in their brains than healthy individuals which suggests that this factor could be responsible for the cognitive impairment.
For the study, researchers analyzed the effects of 2000 compounds, both natural substances and FDA-approved drugs, on brain cells in the laboratory. They identified a series of compounds which may be able to protect neurons in the brain.
Nine of these were related to epicatechin, found in cocoa and green tea leaves. Researchers then compared these to resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine. They found that epicatechin and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) were the most effective in helping protect neurons by encouraging production of BDNF.
Although the antioxidant action of epicatechin and EGCG are well known, the discovery that they could be responsible for stimulating the production of BDNF is an exciting prospect for researchers.
Furthermore, the fact that these compounds easily cross the blood-brain barrier increases their therapeutic potential — this is often a major stumbling block in the development of brain treatments. This provides hope for HIV patients as there is currently no neuroprotective treatment for cognitive impairment.
“Due to its simpler structure and more efficient blood-brain barrier penetration properties, epicatechin might be the best therapeutic candidate for neurodegenerative diseases. These include HIV-associated cognitive disorders where oxidative stress is an important pathophysiological mechanism,” said the authors.
The research is published online in Springer’s Journal of NeuroVirology.
Source: Johns Hopkins