Adding a sprig of thyme or a pinch of parsley to your next home-cooked meal may do more than boost its flavor; it could boost your brain, too. New research reveals how apigenin, a substance present in such herbs, triggers formation of human brain cells and boosts connections between them.
Researchers at D'Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), says their findings suggest apigenin — also found in red pepper, chamomile and many other plants and herbs — shows promise as a treatment for numerous neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia.
Previous animal studies have shown that substances from the same flavonoid group as apigenin may benefit memory and learning, and other research has demonstrated that flavonoids have the potential to preserve and boost brain function.
For their latest study, the researchers applied apigenin to human stem cells, which have the ability to develop into different cell types, in a laboratory dish. They found that after 25 days, these stem cells transformed into neurons, or nerve cells, an effect the researchers say was not seen in the absence of apigenin. What is more, the researchers found that the connections that developed between the newly formed neurons, known as synapses, were stronger and more sophisticated. "Strong connections between neurons are crucial for good brain function, memory consolidation and learning," noted the researchers.
Flavonoids are present at high amounts in some foods and we can speculate that a diet rich in flavonoids may influence the formation of neurons and the way they communicate within the brain.