Green tea and chocolates may help reduce neurological complications linked to HIV, paving way for effective treatment of HIV-related brain disorders, a new study has found.
Research by Joseph Steiner and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University found that a group of plant polyphenols known as catechins, which naturally occur in green tea and the seed of the cacao tree, may help in the prevention of these neurological complications.
The study is published in Journal of NeuroVirology.
Current drug therapy for patients with HIV is unable to control the complete replication of the virus in the brain, and, therefore, is ineffective in the complications associated with neurocognitive impairment in HIV patients.
Previous research has established the critical role of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in supporting the survival and growth of neurons in the brain.
This protein is active in areas of the brain vital to learning, memory and higher thinking. Patients with HIV have been found to have lower levels of BDNF in their brains than healthy individuals suggesting that this could be directly responsible for the cognitive impairment suffered.
In the study, Steiner and colleagues analysed the effects of 2000 compounds, containing both natural substances and FDA-approved drugs, on brain cells in the laboratory.
They identified a series of compounds, which had the potential to help protect neurons in the brain. Nine of these were related to epicatechin, which is found in cocoa and green tea leaves.
Further screening and comparison with resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine, specifically identified epicatechin and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) as being the most effective at helping protect neurons by inducing production of BDNF.
The fact that these compounds readily cross the blood-brain barrier further increases their therapeutic potential, as this is often a major stumbling block in the development of therapies directed at the brain.
This provides hope for patients with HIV, as there is currently no neuroprotective therapy available for patients with HIV-associated cognitive impairment.