Cincinnati—Motivated by reports of its benefits in fighting cancer and keeping hearts healthy, many consumers are picking up Concord grape juice at the grocery store. Now, there may be another reason to put a bottle or two in the cart.
A pilot study led by a University of Cincinnati (UC) researcher suggests that drinking Concord grape juice may help older adults with early memory decline improve their memory function. The human study confirmed earlier research on animals performed by study collaborators at Tufts University.
The study was led by Robert Krikorian, PhD, of the UC College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, with funding and material support from Welch Foods, Inc. Results will be presented at the 30th annual scientific meeting of the American Aging Association in Boulder, Colo., May 30-June 2.
“I’m interested in pre-dementia conditions,” says Krikorian. “That is, memory changes in older adults that increase risk for progression to Alzheimer’s disease or perhaps some other form of dementia. In considering what we might do to forestall progression or even prevent it, lifestyle modification seems to be the most robust approach we have available to us at this time.”
Krikorian points out that there is a class of foods called functional foods— many fruits and vegetables, for instance—that promote health in addition to providing nutrition. “Fruits with deep colors typically are classified as functional foods because of their beneficial effects,” he says.
“There’s a history of several years’ research with individuals with cardiovascular risk factors demonstrating that if you supplement with Concord grape juice on a daily basis for six weeks, eight weeks or longer, you can see measurable reductions in blood pressure, reductions in markers of inflammation in the body and some other changes that seem to be beneficial in these individuals.”
Concord grape juice, made from the dark purple Concord grape, contains polyphenol compounds, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may affect signaling in memory centers of the brain. “We know that grape juice gets into the brain,” says Krikorian. “Inflammation’s a very important factor in neural degeneration, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.”
In the double-blind, randomized trial, 12 adults with early memory decline drank 15 to 21 ounces (depending on body weight) of either 100 percent Concord grape juice or a placebo beverage that looked, tasted and smelled like grape juice each day for 12 weeks. At the outset of the study, there was no significant difference regarding age, education or level of memory impairment of the participants. In the last week of the trial, analyses indicated improvements in verbal and spatial memory function for the subjects receiving Concord grape juice. A significant effect was observed for list learning, a trend for list recall, and a trend for spatial memory.
The major limitation of the study, authors say, is the small sample size. Krikorian says he is anticipating that there may be a larger study that might begin relatively soon.