Can these everyday smoothie ingredients help relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a functional disturbance of the brain that gradually leads to memory loss and difficulties with thought processing.1 It is the most common cause of dementia but not the only cause. The early onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease tends to occur in the mid-60s.1 – 3

I had little knowledge of Alzheimer’s disease prior to writing this article. However, whilst researching into this disease, I believed that it is those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their carers that could really explain what Alzheimer’s disease is. To gain some understanding, I joined the Dementia Friends Initiative and watched awareness movies such as Still Alice which is also available as a book.

Continual research is being channelled towards the development of medicinal treatment for enhancing long-term memory.4 These research programmes have produced some small molecules specifically for memory-enhancement. However, some of them have dose-limiting side effects which have severely restricted their therapeutic use.5

A healthy diet might help

Reports have known that a healthy balanced diet can reduce the risk of developing dementia, along with maintaining a healthy lifestyle.2,3 Additionally, some studies suggests that individuals with dementia often have low levels of vitamins C and E.6 Vitamins C and E have been suggested to have protective activities on the brain from the effects of ageing. An observational research study linked high dietary intake of vitamins C and E to a 20-25% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.6 Although, it is unclear whether the benefit is from a healthy diet or the vitamins alone. In addition, the vitamin supplements did not appear to offer the same protection.6

A healthy diet might be beneficial, as the combined effect of many nutrients outweighs the effect of a single nutrient.7 This idea is exemplified by Souvenaid, a medical nutrition formulation. Souvenaid is a drink that contains the combination of vitamins and nutrients for the dietary management of early Alzheimer’s disease. The drink contains high doses of Vitamin C, E, B and B13, uridine, choline and omega 3 fatty acids.7

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish. This is rather interesting because as a child, I rarely ate fish and I still don’t eat it that often, however, I have just started adding tuna to my menu. During my childhood, I only ate fish as I believed that it will boost my intellect, so the night before a school test I would be hoping for fish at dinner. Clearly, that is not how it works but it encouraged me to eat fish.

Can a smoothie help relieve some of the symptoms?


There has been some success in the use of classical neurotrophic factors to treat a variety of chronic and acute disorders of the central nervous system.5 Neurotrophic factors promote the differentiation, survival and functional maintenance of nerve cells. However, difficulty in crossing the blood-brain barrier limits the use of classical neurotrophic factors.5 Therefore, there is a need to identify small molecules that mimic neurotrophic factors.

Fisetin ChemDraw

Figure 1: Fisetin

Studies suggest that fisetin (Figure 1) can facilitate long-term memory, therefore, it may be useful for treating patients with memory disorders.5 Fisetin is a naturally occurring flavonoid compound present in many fruits and vegetables (Figure 2) including strawberries, apples, cucumbers and onions.8 It is also available over-the-counter as a supplement.

Smoothie Ingredients

Figure 2: Fruits that contain fisetin


Pre-clinical studies data show that fisetin has some of the properties of classical neurotrophic factors and could potentially be beneficial when it to comes to Alzheimer’s disease.5 However, it is important to note here that no studies have been carried out in humans.8 Some of the theoretical benefits of fisetin suggested from pre-clinical studies are listed below.5, 9

  1. It promotes differentiation and survival of the nerve cell (it protects nerve cells from oxidative stress-induced death)
  2. Enhances long-term memory by activating signalling pathways that contribute to the development of long-term memory
  3. Can act on many of the targets pathways implicated in Alzheimer’s disease
  4. Works through a different mechanism to other memory-enhancing compounds
  5. Is effective when given orally

Future work

Further research of fisetin could have a long-term beneficial effect on memory with relatively little cost or side effects as it is present in a number of commonly eaten foods.5 Fisetin is also being researched as a potential treatment to protect from breast cancer.10

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Medicinal plants – Will Bidens pilosa prove to be a source of a new class of antimalarial therapies?

Mankind has used plants for medicinal purposes for centuries. The World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of Asian and African populations rely on traditional medicine for their primary health care needs. Of all medicinal plants found in the world, approximately 20% have undergone screening for therapeutic potential and validated. Bidens pilosa (B. pilosa) is one of the plants that has been screened and seems to be a promising target.


Photo Credit: Wikipedia


B. pilosa is a weed which originates in Central America. It has the ability to thrive in almost any environment and is therefore, likely to occur in all countries. This plant reminds me of my primary school days. Walking back from school, exploring various shortcuts through the bushes and getting home hours later with a cardigan covered in Black Jack needles or as we call it in Zimbabwe “Tsine” (Shona). B. pilosa is known by various names in different countries; Picao preta (Brazil), Black Jack (South Africa), Beggars Tick (USA) and Xian Feng Cao (“Abundant Weed”) (China). B. pilosa is considered a major crop weed that is a threat to animals and a physical nuisance. However, is there more to this plant than meets the eye?

Medicinal uses

B. pilosa is used in traditional medicine, especially in Africa, for the treatment of wounds as an anti-inflammation and anti-bacterial for infections of the gastrointestinal tract. B. pilosa is also used in other parts of the world to treat various ailments. In Brazil it is used as a pain killer while the Chinese drink it in their tea as a treatment for diabetes and other conditions. The plants are ingested as teas and juice preparations which are also made into ointment for direct application onto wounds and burns.

What does science tell us?

Various compounds with therapeutic potential, mainly, polyacetylenes and flavonoids have been isolated and identified in all parts of the plant. Polyacetylenes have been shown to be highly toxic towards various pathogenic organisms and flavonoids reduce inflammation. These two categories of active compounds can help to explain the use this medicinal herb.


An illustration of B.pilosa indicating medicinal uses of different parts of the plant (Belina Sithole)

In a study carried out by Rojas et al., 2006 B. pilosa extracts demonstrated antibacterial activity against E. coli and S. aureus. The antibacterial activity, ability to kill parasitic worms and protozoa shown by different extracts of B. pilosa are attributed to the presence of polyacetylenes (Bondareko et al., 1985; Geissberger and Sequin 1991).           B. pilosa is also used to treat stomach disorders such as peptic ulcers. The ability to diminish gastric secretion and cytoprotective effect – protecting cells from toxic chemicals of B. pilosa is attributed to the presence of flavonoids (Alvarez et al., 1999).

An endophytic fungus (Botryosphaeria rhodina) was isolated from the stems of B. pilosa. Extracts of the fungal isolate exhibited significant antifungal activity as well as potent cytotoxic – toxic to cells and antiproliferative effects – inhibit cell growth, against several cancer cells (Abdou et al., 2010).

B. pilosa root extracts contain polyacetylenes and flavonoids that exert in vitro antimalarial activity (Oliveria et al., 2004). Further research of B. pilosa has led to the isolation of two more compounds (linear polyacetylenic diol 1 and its glucoside 2), which demonstrated potent in vivo antimalarial activity (Tobinaga et al., 2009).


It is suggested that future antimalarial therapies containing B. pilosa extracts may become available to treat communities in Africa. The widespread use of this plant may yield valuable therapies to treat a variety of diseases, however, further studies especially cytotoxicity testing may be needed.


Cytoprotective: protecting cells from toxic chemicals or other stimuli

Antiproliferative: used to inhibit cell growth

Cytotoxic: toxic to cells

In vitro: observed in an artificial environment outside a living organism

In vivo: observed in a living organism

Flavonoids: common plant pigment containing flavone in various combinations, the compounds act as antioxidants

Flavone Capture

Polyacetylenes: an organic compound with a long chain of carbon atoms joined together with altering single and double bonds, each carbon atom bonded to one hydrogen atom

Polyacetylene Capture


WHO Traditional medicine. 2008 World Health Organization; Available online: (accessed on 11/02/2017)

Arthur, G.D., Naidoo, K.K. and Coopoosamy, R.M., 2012. Bidens pilosa L.: agricultural and pharmaceutical importance. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research6(17), pp.3282-3281.

Rojas, J.J., Ochoa, V.J., Ocampo, S.A. and Muñoz, J.F., 2006. Screening for antimicrobial activity of ten medicinal plants used in Colombian folkloric medicine: A possible alternative in the treatment of non-nosocomial infections. BMC complementary and alternative medicine6(1), p.2.

Bondarenko, A.S., Petrenko, G.T., Aizenman, B.E. and Evseenko, O.V., 1985. Antimicrobial properties of phenylheptatriyne, a polyacetylene antibiotic. Mikrobiologicheskii Zhurnal47, pp.81-83.

Geissberger, P. and Séquin, U.R.S., 1991. Constituents of Bidens pilosa L.: do the components found so far explain the use of this plant in traditional medicine?. Acta tropica48(4), pp.251-261.

Alvarez, A., Pomar, F., Sevilla, M.A. and Montero, M.J., 1999. Gastric antisecretory and antiulcer activities of an ethanolic extract of Bidens pilosa L. var. radiata Schult. Bip. Journal of ethnopharmacology67(3), pp.333-340.

Abdou, R., Scherlach, K., Dahse, H.M., Sattler, I. and Hertweck, C., 2010. Botryorhodines A–D, antifungal and cytotoxic depsidones from Botryosphaeria rhodina, an endophyte of the medicinal plant Bidens pilosa.Phytochemistry71(1), pp.110-116.

Oliveira, F.Q., Andrade-Neto, V., Krettli, A.U. and Brandão, M.G.L., 2004. New evidences of antimalarial activity of Bidens pilosa roots extract correlated with polyacetylene and flavonoids. Journal of Ethnopharmacology,93(1), pp.39-42.

Tobinaga, S., Sharma, M.K., Aalbersberg, W.G., Watanabe, K., Iguchi, K., Narui, K., Sasatsu, M. and Waki, S., 2009. Isolation and identification of a potent antimalarial and antibacterial polyacetylene from Bidens pilosa. Planta medica75(06), pp.624-628.

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