Certain fruits and vegetables—including broccoli, potatoes, oranges, apples, and radishes—contain phytochemicals that work in ways similar to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent report.* This research supports previous studies suggesting that abundant dietary intake of fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Scientists at King’s College in London who investigated various fruits and vegetables found that certain plant foods contain compounds that inhibit acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is crucial for relaying messages between cells of the nervous system and for signaling muscles and glands. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with diminished acetylcholine levels, and some drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s work by inhibiting the acetylcholinesterase enzyme.
Of the fruits and vegetables tested, the research team found broccoli to have the most potent activity against acetylcholinesterase. Further study revealed that glucosinolates, a group of compounds found in the cabbage family, were likely responsible for this action. Glucosinolates previously have been studied for their anti-cancer activity.
Potatoes may also help prevent mental decline, the researchers noted. In particular, green potatoes contain glycoalkaloids such as solanine that have activity similar to glucosinolates. Earlier research established the ability of these phytochemicals to inhibit acetylcholinesterase.
Professor Peter Houghton noted that long-term consumption of fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, potatoes, and others, “might certainly be beneficial in reducing a decline in acetylcholine levels in the nervous system.”
By supporting healthy levels of acetylcholine, these fruits and vegetables may help protect aging adults from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
—Elizabeth Wagner, ND