(NaturalNews) A nutrient found in grapes, green tea and cocoa could have a significant impact on the brain cell damage that leads to Alzheimer's disease, according to the results of a new study carried out by scientists at Kings College, London (UK).
A research team headed by Dr Robert Williams, a lead scientist at the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases, examined the effects of epicatechin, a nutrient found abundantly in the three foods, in a model of Alzheimer's disease and assessed the potential effectiveness it might have to slow signs of deterioration leading to the illness.
Alzheimer's disease is believed to be caused by a build up of sticky proteins in the brain called 'amyloid plaques'. Results revealed that epicatechin may prevent their formation.
"We have found that epicatechin protects brain cells from damage. This is interesting because epicatechin and its breakdown products are one of the relatively few flavonoids known to access the brain, suggesting it has the potential to be bioactive in humans", said Dr Williams.
"Our findings support the general concept that dietary intake of flavonoid-rich foods or supplements could impact on the development and progression of dementia." 
Also published this week was a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease suggesting that a combination of Vitamin D and curcumin, the main component of the spice turmeric, may clear the brain of amyloid plaques in individuals already suffering from the disease.
Scientists at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, have discovered that the two nutrients may stimulate the immune system in such a way that the body is prompted to remove the toxic build-up.
Through a series of experiments, the researchers were able to determine that curcumin and vitamin D could 'double team' Alzheimer's plaques through a joint mechanism of action. Curcumin was shown to help white blood cells latch onto plaque proteins, while vitamin D could bring up the rear and increase the speed at which the cells were able to gobble it up.
"We hope that vitamin D3 and curcumin, both naturally occurring nutrients, may offer new preventive and treatment possibilities for Alzheimer's disease," said study author Dr. Milan Fiala. 
Curcumin has been investigated for a number of years in relation to the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. Recent research also suggests that low levels of vitamin D may be a significant risk factor.  However, this is the first study directly linking it to a possible treatment for the condition.
 Presented at the British Pharmacological Society's Summer Meeting, Edinburgh, July 10 2009.  Masoumi et al. 1á,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 Interacts with Curcuminoids to Stimulate Amyloid-â Clearance by Macrophages of Alzheimer's Disease Patients. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. 2009 Jul;17(3):703-717.  Evatt et al. Prevalence of vitamin d insufficiency in patients with Parkinson disease and Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. 2008 Oct;65(10):1348-52.
About the author
Michael Jolliffe is a freelance writer based in Oxford, UK.