A compound of chemicals found in pomegranates shows promise as a way to slow down the progression of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases by reducing inflammation of the human brain, researchers say.

The compound known as punicalagin can't prevent or arrest neurodegenerative diseases but may be able to slow their inexorable advance, they say.

Researchers at Britain's University of Huddersfield report they've been working with the compound for two years, studying its ability to inhibit inflammation of specialized brain cells known as microglia that can result in destruction of further brain cells, causing symptoms in Alzheimer's sufferers to progressively get worse.

The researchers' current efforts are directed at finding out just what quantity of pomegranate, scientific name Punica granatum, is required to provide an effective amount of the punicalagin.

"But we do know that regular intake and regular consumption of pomegranate has a lot of health benefits -- including prevention of neuro-inflammation related to dementia," says research leader Dr. Olumayokun Olajide.

In juice products of 100 per cent pomegranate, around 3.4 per cent of the product will be punicalagin, the majority of it coming from the pomegranate's outer skin, he says.

Olajide, who specializes in the anti-inflammatory effects of natural products, says pomegranate has been of interest to Alzheimer's researchers for some time. Previous studies have suggested it can help break down plaque that builds up in the brain and brings on the beginnings of the disease.

It can be effective in treating any medical condition that involves inflammation, not just diseases involving neuroinflammation, he says, suggesting it may yield treatments for diseases as diverse as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

The Huddersfield researchers say they've teamed up with organic chemists in hopes of creating derivative punicalagin compounds  that may lead to oral drugs that could be administered as treatment for neuroinflammation.

Olajide began his studies of anti-inflammatory properties of natural substances in his native Nigeria, where he received his doctorate degree from the University of Ibadan.

He credits his interest in his particular research area to his being raised there.

"African mothers normally treat sick children with natural substances such as herbs," he says. "My mum certainly used a lot of those substances. And then I went on to study pharmacology!"

 Olajide's research is published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

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