RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- According to new research out of Brazil, a naturally occurring flavonoid called apigenin boosts neuron formation and connections between brain cells. Apigenin is found in parsley, thyme, chamomile and red pepper.
Previous studies have suggested flavonoids work to protect and strengthen brain function, but the latest lab tests are the first to prove the positive effects of apigenin directly on human brain cells -- and the first to show the mechanism for flavonoids' brain-boosting powers.
The new findings were published in the journal Advances in Regenerative Biology.
Brazilian scientists applied apigenin directly to stem cells in a laboratory petri dish. Within 25 days, the cells became neurons. Neuron cells treated with the natural compound also made stronger and more complex connections with each other.
"Strong connections between neurons are crucial for good brain function, memory consolidation and learning," study author Stevens Rehen, a neuroscientist with both the D'Or Institute of Research and Education and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said in a press release.
According to Rehen, apigenin boosts brain power by binding to the neuron cells' estrogen receptors. Estrogen and its partnering hormones are essential to the development, performance and plasticity of body's nervous system, but they also work to delay psychiatric and neurodegenerative maladies like schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Medical researchers have experimented with estrogen-based therapies in fighting a variety of neurological disorders, but the use of these hormones can spur tumor growth and cause heart problems.
"We show a new path for new studies with this substance," said Rehen. "Moreover, flavonoids are present at high amounts in some foods and we can speculate that a diet rich in flavonoids may influence the formation of neurons and the way they communicate within the brain."