Next time you hear your friends living abroad criticise Indian food for its more-than-liberal dose of spices, quote the following study to them. According to Brazilian researchers, spicing up your dishes is a good thing because a plant compound found in spices and herbs increases brain connections. The researchers from D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR), Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) have demonstrated in laboratory that apigenin, a substance found in parsley, thyme, chamomile and red pepper, improves neuron formation and strengthens the connections between brain cells.
Previous experiments with animals had already shown that substances from the same chemical group as the apigenin, known as flavonoids, positively affect memory and learning. The scientists observed that just by applying apigenin to human stem cells in a dish they become neurons after 25 days — an effect they would not see without the substance. Moreover, the neurons that were formed made stronger and sophisticated connections among themselves after being treated with this natural compound.
Strong connections between neurons are crucial for good brain function, memory consolidation and learning, says leader author Stevens Rehen. The team demonstrated that apigenin works by binding to estrogen receptors, which affect the development, maturation, function, and plasticity of the nervous system. This group of hormones is known to delay the onset of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, the use of estrogen-based therapies is limited by the increased risk of estrogen-dependent tumours and cardiovascular problems. The study is published in Advances in Regenerative Biology.