A person enjoying maple syrup. Kassandra Neranjan/The Varsity

It’s that time of year again, the weather is getting warmer and the sap is running from the maple trees.

Not only is maple syrup a great addition to almost any dish, but it has recently been suggested that the sweet treat may also help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Professor Donald Weaver from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto and his team have recently discovered a possible link between the consumption of maple syrup and a healthy brain. 

The research is still in the early stages, but its findings thus far are very promising. No one should start drinking maple syrup like it is water — more work needs to be done.

The beneficial potential of polyphenols is common knowledge in the scientific community. Polyphenols are molecules that are plant-based and have various antioxidant properties. 

With this in mind, Weaver and his team “started searching for a novel source of polyphenols.” They decided to research trees and their sap since it was a resource that was still untapped.

They discovered that while maple sap does not posses any interesting biological properties in itself, the boiling process used to make maple syrup enables the formation of novel polyphenols. 

“Maple syrup extract is able to prevent the misfolding and clumping of both beta-amyloid and tau [proteins],” a property that no previously discovered compound has possessed.   

In Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid proteins form plaques in the brain that clump together and block cell signaling at the synapse. In healthy individuals, tau proteins help keep transport systems organized, however, tau proteins are able to form ‘tangles’ which keep them from organizing the transport systems, and thus, without nutrients, cells die. The misfolding and clumping of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain has been shown to be a cause of Alzheimer’s dementia.

Weaver states that the future goal of this polyphenol research “is to find a single chemical that is drug-like, able to cross the blood-brain barrier and get into the brain, and able to bind to both beta-amyloid and tau and to prevent their misfolding.” 

To be able to find the single chemical with the biological properties observed, the compound found in maple syrup extract needs to be refined. Once it has been found, researchers will need to evaluate whether a sufficient dose of the chemical can be obtained through the consumption of maple syrup or if the potential synthesis of the chemical in laboratory is necessary. Other important properties to identify are an ability to reach the brain and the dosage required to effectively prevent Alzheimer’s disease. 

Although the current research has only been conducted in test tubes so far, media outlets around the globe have reported on this incredible finding.

Weaver is glad to see that none of the results presented in the media have been oversold, which is a common problem with the media’s portrayal of new scientific findings. 

Will we eventually see a drug emerge on the market that contains maple syrup? Who knows. For now, all we can do is keep enjoying our Canadian treat.

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