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Concord Grape Juice Slows Cognitive Decline

Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

April 29, 2010

I find myself fretting over a kind chicken and egg question this morning.  I was reading a paper describing a clinical trial using Concord grape juice to treat early cognitive decline and noticed that the grape juice used was supplied by the Welch’s company of Concord, Massachusetts.  Putting aside any interest in the efficacy of grape juice for treating or preventing memory loss, I wondered whether the town of Concord was named after the grapes that are grown there, or if the grapes simply bear the name of the town in which they are grown.

 

I’ve been following the research on fruit juice and neuro-degenerative diseases ever since results of the Kame Project reported drinking fruit juice decreased risk Alzheimer’s disease back in 2006. 

 

The Kame Project was a population-based prospective study of 1,836 older Japanese Americans in King County, Washington, who were followed from the early 1990s until 2001 and watched for onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  What they ate was carefully tracked through regular questionnaires.   The only association between diet and disease risk was juice consumption.  The more juice subjects drank, the lower the risk.Those in the study who drank juice at least 3 times per week compared with those who drank juice less than once per week, had a hazard ratio for developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease of only 0.24 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.09-0.61).  That is the juice drinkers had about a 76% lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s than non-juice drinkers.

 

The current grape juice study that has me ruminating about Concord was conducted by Robert Krikorian from the University of Cincinnati and published in the British Journal of Nutrition.  It was a small pilot study with only 12 older (average age 78) subjects, testing grape juice in a blinded, placebo controlled trial. Only five actually drank real grape juice, the rest had some sort of imitation purplish placebo.  Daily dose of juice was dependent on the subject’s weight. For example those weighing 120 to 140 pounds drank 15 ounces per day of grape juice, a third of their daily ration drank with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

They drank the juice for 12 weeks and were tested at the start of the study and a week before it ended.  The testing focused on verbal learning and retention and non-verbal memory using the standard tests routinely employed to track memory decline associated with neuro-degeneration.

Comparing the grape juice drinkers with those who drank the placebo, there was statistically significant improvement in verbal learning.  Verbal and spatial recall appeared to improve but the differences did not reach statistical significance.  Given the low number of participants in this trial it is impressive that any test showed a statistical difference.

When it comes to Alzheimer’s the research goal seems to be shifting away from the idea of curing the disease to delaying onset and slowing progression. Roses et al. report that Alzheimer's cases are estimated to quadruple globally by 2050 to more than 107 million.  They calculate, "…that delaying Alzheimer's disease onset by one or two years could decrease the disease burden in 2050 by 9.5 million or 23 million cases, respectively."   With this sort of information in mind, many studies, this grape juice one included, are focused on finding easy and inexpensive ways to delay disease onset.

It’s not just grape juice that might be useful. Back at about the same time as the Kame Project data was published, Hartman et al. reported that pomegranate juice was useful in preventing Alzheimer’s like deterioration in mice.   Just recently, Remington et al reported in March 2010 that 8 ounces of apple juice per day for a month improved behavioral symptoms in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Grape juice already has an established role in preventing cardiovascular disease. Castilla et al. reported in 2006 that two weeks of drinking grape juice, “…. improves the lipoprotein profile, reduces plasma concentrations of inflammatory biomarkers and oxidized LDL, and may favor a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.”

Patients are frequently subjected to sales pitches encouraging them to purchase juices made from exotic fruits.  There is little published information in the scientific literature to support many of these claims.  Domestically produced juice, in this case grape juice does often have good evidence supporting greater consumption. 

As far as which came first, Concord, the town, or Concord, the grape, the honor goes to the former.  Concord, the town dates back to 1635, the year a group of British settlers purchased the 6 square mile tract of land on which the town sits from the remnants of a local Indian tribe that had been pretty much wiped out by smallpox. The British named the town “Concord” in appreciation of how easily they negotiated the deal.  The sellers of course may have seen their tribe’s decimation in a different light.

Concord grapes didn’t arrive until two centuries after the town’s founding.  They were the invention of Ephraim Wales Bull who moved to Concord from Boston in 1836.  He spent ten years, from 1843 to 1853, breeding grapes until he had one that could survive New England’s cold winters.  Bull sold his Concord vines for $5 a piece.  Obviously an inventor not a business man, Bull made little money from his invention; the farmer’s who bought and planted grapes were the ones who profited.  After the initial sales, Bull made no money off his grapes, a situation not unnoticed by others.  His tombstone reads:

“He sowed, others reaped.”

 

References:

Am J Med. 2006 Sep;119(9):751-9.

Fruit and vegetable juices and Alzheimer's disease: the Kame Project.

Dai Q, Borenstein AR, Wu Y, Jackson JC, Larson EB.

Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine and Public Health, Vanderbilt Center for Health Services Research, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt School of Medicine, Nashville, Tenn, USA. qi.dai@vanderbilt.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Growing evidence suggests that oxidative damage caused by the beta-amyloid peptide in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease may be hydrogen peroxide mediated. Many polyphenols, the most abundant dietary antioxidants, possess stronger neuroprotection against hydrogen peroxide than antioxidant vitamins. METHODS: We tested whether consumption of fruit and vegetable juices, containing a high concentration of polyphenols, decreases the risk of incident probable Alzheimer's disease in the Kame Project cohort, a population-based prospective study of 1836 Japanese Americans in King County, Washington, who were dementia-free at baseline (1992-1994) and were followed through 2001. RESULTS: After adjustment for potential confounders, the hazard ratio for probable Alzheimer's disease was 0.24 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.09-0.61) comparing subjects who drank juices at least 3 times per week with those who drank less often than once per week with a hazard ratio of 0.84 (95% CI, 0.31-2.29) for those drinking juices 1 to 2 times per week (P for trend < .01). This inverse association tended to be more pronounced among those with an apolipoprotein Eepsilon-4 allele and those who were not physically active. Conversely, no association was observed for dietary intake of vitamins E, C, or beta-carotene or tea consumption. CONCLUSIONS: Fruit and vegetable juices may play an important role in delaying the onset of Alzheimer's disease, particularly among those who are at high risk for the disease. These results may lead to a new avenue of inquiry in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.

PMID: 16945610 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]PMCID: PMC2266591Free PMC Article

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16945610

Roses AD, Lutz MW, Amrine-Madsen H, Saunders AM, Crenshaw DG, Sundseth SS, et al. A TOMM40 variable-length polymorphism predicts the age of late-onset Alzheimer's disease.  Pharmacogenomics J. 2009 Dec 22. [

Hartman RE, Shah A, Fagan AM, Schwetye KE, Parsadanian M, Schulman RN, et al.

Pomegranate juice decreases amyloid load and improves behavior in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Neurobiol Dis. 2006 Dec;24(3):506-15.

Remington R, Chan A, Lepore A, Kotyla E, Shea TB. Apple Juice Improved Behavioral But Not Cognitive Symptoms in Moderate-to-Late Stage Alzheimer's Disease in an Open-Label Pilot Study.  Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen. 2010 Mar 25. [Epub ahead of print]

Castilla P, Echarri R, Dávalos A, Cerrato F, Ortega H, Teruel JL, et al. Concentrated red grape juice exerts antioxidant, hypolipidemic, and antiinflammatory effects in both hemodialysis patients and healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jul;84(1):252-62.