Compound Found In Parsley, Other Herbs, Boosts Brain Connections

An organic compound from the flavonoid class known as apigenin — which can be found in herbs like parsley, thyme, chamomile, and red pepper — has been discovered to increase the formation of neurons in the brain and also strengthen connections between them.

Past studies had already established a link between memory increase and learning advantages in animals who were given flavonoids like apigenin. Research into how flavonoids improve brain functions and preserve it from deterioration with age, as in diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, has also been the focus of many previous studies. However, the role which the specific flavonoid known as apigenin plays directly on the human brain had yet to be studied prior to the current research.

Petri Dish Success

The mechanism behind apigenin’s effect on human cells is the subject of the study. It has been observed that when human stem cells — cells that have yet to develop or specialize specific characteristics for functioning in the body — are treated directly with apegenin in a petri dish they slowly turn into neurons over the course of 25 days. If this substance was not applied to the stem cells, these developments would fail to take place. Besides this, the neurons that developed in this way showed stronger links to each other than is typical of naturally developed neurons.

There’s A Catch

These strong connections make effective brain processing related to memory consolidation and learning perform at higher levels. The way that apigenin works on neurons is by binding to their estrogen receptors, which are responsible for the development, maturation, function, and plasticity of the nervous system in general. When these hormones are binding to neurons the risk of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s is delayed significantly. The trouble is that estrogen-based therapy for these conditions carries a number of side effects including the increased risk of tumors and cardiovascular disease. 

In the Future

For this reason researchers look to apigenin as a hopeful alternative to treating neurodegenerative conditions and bringing about more diversity in the structure of neurons themselves. There may be a time in the future that a diet high in foods containing this compound becomes a standard preventative measure for protecting the brain from mental decline associated with aging or disease.

Parsley, thyme, chamomile, and red pepper are all typically used to spice dishes and enhance their flavor. Herbal tea made from chamomile also serves as a means of introducing this flavonoid into your diet.

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Image used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Yutaka Seki

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