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“Anti-Aging” Effect of Grape and Blueberry Polyphenols in the Elderly

The French-Canadian research project Neurophenol, which brings together both researchers and industrial partners, has demonstrated the beneficial effects of a mixture of polyphenols extracted from grapes and blueberries in elderly subjects suffering from advanced non-pathological cognitive decline.

“Anti-Aging” Effect of Polyphenols. © Inra
By Dora Courbon, translated by Natalia Bermúdez
Updated on 10/08/2018
Published on 09/05/2018

The objective of the French-Canadian project Neurophenol, launched in 2011, was to develop a nutritional compound capable of preventing age-related cognitive decline, objective that they seem to have achieved. A recent publication in the Journal of Gerontology: Biological sciences has shown that the product developed within the framework of this project significantly improves memory in subjects with advanced cognitive decline. The product is composed of polyphenols—natural antioxidants present in plants—extracted from grapes and blueberries1. After obtaining positive results in mice, the team conducted a clinical study on volunteers from France and Canada.

215 healthy people from 60 to 70 years old constituted the team of volunteers. For a period of six months, half of them received a supplement of polyphenols extracted from the berries, while the other half received a placebo. Using neuropsychological tests, researchers evaluated the cognitive functioning of all subjects before and after the trial. Véronique Pallet, coordinator of the clinical study and deputy director of NutriNeuro Lab, explains that the tests mainly focused on episodic memory, the memory of autobiographical events, which is highly affected by aging. The results obtained before the trial allowed researchers to divide the subjects into four groups, ranked from high to low performance. Subjects from the first group displayed an excellent memory for their age, while subjects from the last group exhibited, on average, a cognitive age 15 years older that their actual age.

After the six-month treatment, the analysis of all the results showed no significant effect that could be attributed to polyphenols. However, when analyzing only the results of the group with higher cognitive deficit, the researchers observed a clear improvement in the mnemonic performance. In terms of memory, the subjects that originally were affected the most by age-related decline “rejuvenated” an average of 14 years, affirms Pallet.

Differences in metabolism

Even though they are essential nutritional bioactives, the human body does not synthetize polyphenols. Their mechanisms of action may be still poorly understood, but scientists are certain that they have a direct effect on maintaining cognitive functioning. In fact, they boost both neuron production and synaptic plasticity, in other words, the amount and activity of neuron connections. Furthermore, their effects can be felt throughout the human body, but especially in the cardiovascular system, which plays a key role in brain aging. Despite all these benefits, the human organism treats polyphenols as toxins, partially eliminating them from the body. The efficiency with which an organism excretes these molecules varies from one person to the other, as does the quantity of polyphenols available to each organism.

To better understand these mechanisms, researchers measured the amount of polyphenols excreted in urine. They discovered that although the amount consumed daily was the same, subjects from the fourth group excreted more polyphenols than the rest of the participants. This means that the age-related cognitive decline observed at the beginning of the trial could be a direct consequence of the subject’s metabolism. These results are particularly promising since they suggest that memory decline, when identified at an early stage, can be delayed or even normalized through the intake of nutritional polyphenols, concluded Pallet. In other words, these results encourage both early diagnosis and the revision of polyphenol intake recommendations according to the age and metabolic profile of each person.

(1) These two berries have different compositions of flavonoids and stilbenes—two different groups of polyphenols—that can complement each other in terms of their function. In the case of grapes, polyphenols were extracted from products from the wine sector.

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The Neurophenol project

The main objective of the Neurophenol project, which was conducted from 2011 to 2016, was to develop a range of dietary compounds rich in polyphenols, extracted from grapes and blueberries, and having a beneficial role in attenuating cognitive decline in humans and pets. A wide variety of academic (INRA, University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux INP, Laval University, the INRS–Institut Armand-Frappier Research Centre, and Oniris Nantes) and industrial partners (Activ’Inside, Nutra Canada, Atrium Innovations, SPF-Diana and Fruit d’Or) participated in this international program. Financed by the French Interministry Fund (FUI), the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER), the government of Quebec, and several local authorities, the project had a budget of 4.2 million euros. As a follow-up to the project, the Institute of nutrition and functional foods at Laval University and the NutriNeuro Joint Research Unit (INRA-Bordeaux University) have created the International Associated Laboratory OptiNutriBrain, dedicated to research in nutrition and brain health.

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Polyphenols from grape and blueberry improve episodic memory in healthy elderly with lower level of memory performance: a bicentric double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, gly166.