Sometimes the most common foods have surprising properties. This is the case with basil, which contains a molecule called phenchol that acts on Alzheimer’s symptoms through the intestines.
Our gut, with its 100 million neurons, is considered our second brain. These neurons, but also metabolites produced by bacteria in the microbiota, communicate with the brain through the autonomic nervous system. Doctors are increasingly interested in the role of the gut and its microbiota in diseases that manifest in the brain, such as neurodegenerative diseases, for example, Alzheimer’s disease, or mental illnesses such as depression.
Phenchol abundant in basil
The role of the microbiota has been studied particularly in Alzheimer’s disease. US scientists have discovered a positive effect of a molecule abundantly present in basil on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, which have been reconstructed in animal models. A molecule called phenchol acts on a receptor that is present in intestinal neurons. This receptor, FFAR2, is normally activated by short-chain fatty acids produced by gut bacteria. However, people with Alzheimer’s disease may be deficient in short-chain fatty acids. To compensate for the loss of the beneficial effect of FFAR2 activation in patients, the researchers searched a library of 114,000 natural compounds to find the one that best activates FFAR2. The winner was phenchol, which is found abundantly in basil, but also in grapes and mustard.
Slowing neuronal degeneration
In cell cultures, phenchol prevented neurodegeneration associated with the accumulation of amyloid proteins. In animal models, fenchol treatment extended lifespan and reduced the proliferation of amyloid plaques in the body of Caenorhadbitis elegans worms. The mechanism of the beneficial effect of phenchol is not fully understood yet, but activation of the FFAR2 receptor by phenchol appears to stimulate the proteasome and the lysosomal activity of neurons. Both the proteasome and lysosomes are involved in cellular waste disposal. Hyperactivated amyloid plaques would then be destroyed more easily in neurons, thus protecting them from destruction.
It is unlikely that eating high amounts of basil or grapes to get enough phenchol will cure Alzheimer’s disease. This study, published in Frontiers in Aging Science, suggests that what happens in the microbiota may have an effect on brains that are affected by Alzheimer’s disease.