Designing Smart Food Supplements for Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s Diseases

By: Dr Jay Kant Yadav *

Food SupplementsAccumulation of misfolded proteins/peptides in the form of ordered aggregates is the hallmark of many neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases) and systemic amyloidosis (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, serum amyloidosis). Symptoms of these diseases are further aggravated by several environmental factors including age and sex. There is no treatment available at present and the physicians dealing with these diseases usually prescribe drugs essentially for symptomatic relief. On the other hand, a number of active ingredients/molecules have been identified from various ethnic and commonly used dietary sources, which are shown to disassemble amyloid structures, and hence, they hold a great promise in alleviating the root cause of the disease along with their clinical symptoms. However, despite their confirmed efficiency, these ingredients/molecules have not been explored clinically, either through therapeutic intervention or dietary supplementation. Therefore, at this juncture, it would be highly appropriate to rationalise approaches to endorse these active ingredients in designing functional foods or nutraceuticals, keeping in mind that their anti-amyloid properties are not compromised. The current manuscript will further extrapolate the basic perspective on ageing and disease development, and strategies to interject the disease progression by applying our well-tested ethnic and scientific wisdom in addressing these life-threatening complications.

Ageing is a Global Phenomenon

In the recent past, life expectancy has gone up worldwide dramatically and if this trend is continued soon the world will witness more aged people than youths and children. This transformation may be viewed as a potential challenge as well as opportunities for social and political scientists to explore a greater possibility to ensure the balance. According to the recent report published by the United Nation Population Fund, >11 percent of the world population is over 60 or above and the number is estimated to reach 22 percent by 2050. The trend is likely to be perpetuated further due to better nutrition, sanitation, healthcare, education and economic affordability. In other words, ageing is a global phenomenon which is occurring with the fastest speed in the developing countries, including those with a large number of younger populations.

Problems Associated with Ageing

The inevitable and irreversible nature of ageing increases the vulnerability for the development of various types of disabilities and result in the onset of complications associated with wear and tear (e.g., arthritis and bone health), chronic diseases, (e.g., prostate cancer, lung cancer, cataract, diabetes and peripheral vascular disease) and neurodegenerative illness (e.g., dementia).

Above all, dementia is the most common in the ageing population. Usually, memory declines with ageing, however, the propensity of major cognitive impairment due to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, become more common in the aged population. According to a report of WHO, nearly half of the population above the age 85 suffers from cognitive loss due to several neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other associated diseases. However, the neuro degeneration is also prevalent of early post-retirement age and memory loss is the most common symptom. On the other hand, loss due to the onset of age-related onset of cataract is another disease condition that is linked with ageing. With all these eventualities, ageing in a broader sense has various social, cultural, emotional and economic implications. The older people incur comparatively higher cost on health maintenance and wellness.

With the rapid ageing of populations, finding the right model for long-term care becomes more and more urgent. However, the challenges lie in realising the fact that whether such disabilities associated with ageing can be prevented or delayed.

Aggregation of Prorein

Current evidence suggests that the aggregation of protein drives the of onset most age-related illnesses. With ageing, cells accumulate metastable proteins that drive the negative consequences. The protein control quality systems keep on declining.

Due to the breakdown of the protein homeostasis, a normal protein behaves differently and many times undergo systemic aggregation and formation of toxic protein aggregates, which leads to a decline in function and ultimately cell death. It is hypothesised that prevention of aberrant protein aggregation may stabilise the cellular integrity and help the safe disposal of aggregated proteins. At present, there are no conclusive therapeutic strategies in place to treat the diseases of protein aggregation and the management of the patient. It is mainly based on symptomatic relief. At this point, it becomes imperative to look for alternative strategies to ensure healthy ageing or active ageing.

Prevention is Better than Cure: Ensuring healthy ageing and active ageing with SMART food

Hippocrates realised the importance of food in the management of health and wellness while stating the fact that “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” much before the evolution of modern medical science. This symbolised the fact that food is an inherent substance that ultimately constitutes the elements of life.

The ingredients present in a given food define the nutritional and medicinal values and also it can chemically and biologically be defined for a given purpose. These ingredients in staple food, such as polyphenols, flavonoids and some secondary metabolites, play important roles in ensuring optimal health besides providing basic nutrition.

Recent studies have reported some promising components of certain foods that may delay the onset of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. There is a set of nutrients that may be associated with a decreased risk or progression of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease which includes phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables, Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, soybean isoflavone genistein, caffeine from non-coffee sources, both black and green tea.

These active molecules have inspired chemists and pharmacists to synthesise chemical variants with unique properties. A number of active molecules have already been identified and characterised that can be effective against some of the chronic diseases associated with protein aggregation. For example Curcumin, an active ingredient abundantly present in turmeric (Curcuma longa), which is a natural polyphenol responsible for turmeric’s yellow colour and known for its anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-obesity, anti-ageing effects. Although it has not exclusively been used medically, the powdered rhizome has been an essential ingredient in many ethnic Indian foods and medicine. On the other hand, several studies have confirmed the anti-amyloid nature of Curcumin. Similarly, the list contains many other herbs that have directly or indirectly revealed their potentials as anti-amyloidogenic compounds.

It is a need of the moment to consolidate the wisdom of available knowledge to develop ideal forms that can be used to serve as SMART food supplements. These supplements should be sustainable in nature and can be consumed regularly as a part of the diet. Various scientific research is going in this direction and hopefully, a sustainable formation is expected very soon in the market.

* Assistant Professor at Department of Biotechnology, School of Life Sciences, Central University of Rajasthan, NH-8, Ajmer-305817

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