Can Maple Syrup Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

By Lisa Cantkier, Nutritionist

Do you think you’re too young to worry about neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s? In fact, Alzheimer’s disease can affect people under the age of 65, which is usually referred to as its early or young onset.

According to the Alzheimer Society Canada, this disease is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s is irreversible and destroys brain cells, causing one’s thinking ability and memory to deteriorate.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Currently, 747,000 Canadians are living with the disease and other dementias. The combined costs of dementia add up to a staggering $33 billion per year. Although there is no cure, treatments are available.

If these facts leave you feeling bleak, don’t despair—there is exciting, new research that’s giving us all hope about neurodegenerative diseases. And it’s sweet. At this month’s American Chemical Society’s annual meeting, a group of scientists shared the results of two dozen studies about the effects of natural products such as maple syrup, on the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s was a special focus).

Dr. Donald Weaver of University of Toronto’s Krembil Research Institute found pure maple syrup extract might help prevent the “clumping and misfolding” of certain proteins (which can cause accumulation and plaque found in Alzheimer’s) found in brain cells.

These new research findings help support a popular hypothesis that pure maple syrup is a natural product with unique health benefits.
“Maple has more than 100 bioactive compounds, some of which have anti-inflammatory properties,” says Serge Beaulieu, president of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producer.

So, what does this all mean to you?

Talk about maple syrup linked to health benefits may sound familiar to you, thanks to popular media. Remember Beyonce’s much talked about “Maple Syrup Diet” (also known as The Lemonaid Diet and the Master Cleanse) back in 2006, when she told the world she lost 20 pounds in days for the film, Dreamgirls? This “lemon juice-maple syrup-cayenne-water” diet has been touted as a fast and easy weight loss and detoxification diet with the health benefits of maple syrup.

Nutritionists and other health professionals have warned that this is essentially a starvation diet. Let’s face it, weight loss is inevitable when you take in very few calories, and moreover, this diet can actually be dangerous to your health. It’s deficient in all the essential nutrients: calories, vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fibre and fat.

And what about maple syrup when part of a balanced diet, you say? Here’s the scoop. While there is promising research, I’m sorry to say the jury’s not out. Although maple syrup contains the aforementioned benefits , as well as several minerals (most notably calcium and potassium) and vitamins, it doesn’t contain any protein, fat or fibre.

Until there is sufficient scientific evidence from research on humans, maple syrup should be classified and consumed as a sweetener (if it is one you choose to consume). One tablespoon contains 53 calories, 13.28 grams carbohydrates and 11.81 grams of sugar. It is certainly not a recommended sweetener for those who have diabetes or insulin resistance. Don’t avoid it like the plague—it’s still an important part of Canada’s heritage and economy. If you are able to consume maple syrup, proceed with caution and use it sparingly.

Dr. Navinder Seeram, the American Chemical Society’s symposium organizer says, “Now, in preliminary laboratory-based Alzheimer’s disease studies, phenolic-enriched extracts of maple syrup from Canada showed neuroprotective effects, similar to resveratrol, a compound found in red wine. However, further animal and eventually human studies would be required to confirm these initial findings.”