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Maple syrup protects neurons, brain function in worms

MONTREAL, April 13 (UPI) — Maple syrup protected neurons and brain health in worms, though scientists say not to run out and stock up on the sticky condiment — although it contains antioxidants with a neuroprotective effect, all that sugar is still bad for the rest of the body.

Scientists at the University of Montreal tested the effects of maple syrup on brain degeneration in nematodes, finding worms given the highest dose of syrup were the least likely to develop paralysis symptoms similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Previous studies have shown sugar prevents ALS in the C. elegans worm, researchers said, but they wanted to test the effects of naturally-occurring sugar against the disease.

While the effects of two powerful antioxidants, gallic acid and catechol, can protect against neurodegenerative disease, their levels are relatively low in maple syrup. The level of sugar in syrup, however, is significantly high, making it a poor choice to keep one’s brain healthy.

“The life expectancy of C. elegans worms is only three weeks,” Alex Parker, a doctoral student at the University of Montreal, said in a press release. “They are spared the long-term toxic effects of sugar. Humans who consume comparable amounts of sugar risk developing chronic diseases such Type 2 diabetes and obesity.”

For the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers included varying doses of syrup in the diets of worms genetically modified to express a protein involved in ALS motor neurons.

About 12 days into their lives, motor neurons in the worms begin to break down normally leaving about half of them paralyzed. In the experiment, worms receiving a diet with 4 percent maple syrup fared significantly better, as just 17 percent were paralyzed.

“Sugar is good for the nervous system,” Martine Therrien, a doctoral student at the University of Montreal. “Diseased neurons require more energy to combat toxic proteins. But maple syrup is rich in polyphenols, powerful antioxidants found in certain foods. We isolated phenols contained in the maple syrup, and we showed that two polyphenols in particular, gallic acid and catechol, have a neuroprotective effect. In pure maple syrup, these polyphenols are found in low concentrations.”

The researchers say the study was conducted for educational purposes — scientists already knew the effects of sugar on the worms, and everybody knows that guzzling maple syrup is bad for health — but that it shows the potential benefits of both sugar and other naturally-occurring ingredients.

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