A compound in beets could slow Alzheimer's effects

Betanin, the compound that gives beets their distinctive red color could slow down the effects of Alzheimer's disease — the world's leading type of dementia.

Misfolded protein accumulation in the brain — one of the processes associated with Alzheimer's diseases — could be slowed with the help of the vegetable and lead to the development of a drug aimed at alleviating some of the illness' long-term, debilitating effects, according to a new study.

The compound "shows some promise as an inhibitor of certain chemical reactions in the brain that are involved in the progression of Alzheimer's disease," co-author Li-June Ming said in the study published by the American Chemical Society. "This is just a first step, but we hope that our findings will encourage other scientists to look for structures similar to betanin that could be used to synthesize drugs that could make life a bit easier for those who suffer from this disease."

Alzheimer's affects one in 10 Americans over the age of 65 and one in three over 85 — more than five million people. The cause of the disease is still mostly unknown, but scientists suspect that a big contributor is beta-amyloid — a peptide that builds up in the brain and disrupts neuron communication, eventually killing them off. When beta-amyloids attach themselves to metals in the brain like copper or iron, they oxidize, misfold and accumulate.

In the study, the researchers saw that introducing betanin reduced oxidation by 90% and, in effect, at least partly suppressed misfolding.

"We can't say that betanin stops the misfolding completely, but we can say that it reduces oxidation," co-author Darrell Cole Cerrato said. "Less oxidation could prevent misfolding to a certain degree, perhaps even to the point that it slows the aggregation of beta-amyloid peptides, which is believed to be the ultimate cause of Alzheimer's."