Welcome back to another installment of FSHN Research Journeys, which follows the research of graduate students in the Food Science and Human Nutrition program at The University of Florida. Today, we are pleased to feature Kylee Mai, a first-year graduate student working toward her M.S. in food science in the lab of Dr. Liwei Gu. Her research focuses on the potential benefits of muscadine wine polyphenols on cognition and mood. In this article, learn about her research as well as how her interest in phytochemicals led her to UF.
Kylee: Moderate consumption of red wine lessens the risk of coronary heart disease.1 This benefit is mainly attributed to the rich polyphenol content of red wine. Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in plants such as berries, grapes, green teas, and cocoa. In addition to heart health, polyphenols are also beneficial for our gut health.2 Recently, scientists have been interested in studying the effects of polyphenols on brain health. In this research area, a question arises: do our cognitive performance and mood benefit from drinking a glass of wine?
Prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease and Depression
In 2022, an estimated 6.5 million (10.7%) of adults aged 65 and over in the United States suffered from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementia. This number is projected to double and reach 12.7 million by 2050.3 AD is a major form of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.4 Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are also prevalent. It is reported that 8.4% of US adults have had at least one major depressive episode and 19.1% are affected by an anxiety disorder.5,6
Depression and AD are often related. Epidemiological studies demonstrate that depression is a risk factor for AD, increasing the risk of cognitive decline and development of AD. Depression is also sometimes a symptom of AD.7 The exact biological mechanisms for depression and AD are not fully understood, but it is believed that a combination of factors causes these mechanisms.
The goal of my study is to investigate whether there are positive impacts on cognitive performance and mood after acute and chronic consumption of muscadine wine polyphenols. Because we cannot give alcohol to human subjects, we chose to study the effects of polyphenols in dealcoholized muscadine wine. A benefit of using dealcoholized muscadine wine is that it allows us to show the health benefits of polyphenols without the interference of alcohol.
I also seek to understand the underlying mechanisms of these impacts. Although muscadine wine polyphenols are not a cure for either depression or AD, my research will determine any protective effects. If these effects exist, incorporating muscadine wine polyphenols into our diets may help prevent the development of cognitive decline or mental illness.
An Interest in Phytochemicals Leads to Studying at UF
After graduating with a double undergraduate major in food science and human nutrition, I worked in the food industry for a few years to gain work experience. I knew I would eventually pursue a master’s degree. I fell in love with the warm Florida weather and decided to apply to UF. For my undergraduate honors thesis, I’d worked on berries research and have always been interested in phytochemicals. That’s why, for my graduate research, I decided to work with Dr. Liwei Gu, who is an expert in phytochemicals.
Dr. Gu presented several research topics to me when I started my graduate studies. His lab’s study of muscadine wine’s effect on cognition and mood immediately caught my attention. Drinking wine could potentially benefit our cognitive performance? I’d never heard of it.
After spending weeks reviewing the literature, I realized much of the polyphenol consumption research focused on gut health and its anti-inflammatory functions. Brain health is a relatively new topic in the polyphenol research world. In addition, although there is limited research on polyphenols’ effects on cognitive performance and mood, some studies suggest promising results.8-13
How to Assess the Effects of Muscadine Wine or Juice on Cognition and Mood
Several clinical trials report that polyphenol-rich foods or beverages such as concord grape juice, blueberry, blackcurrant juice, and green tea positively impact cognitive function and mood in humans.14-17 However, no study has yet to examine the chronic or acute effects of wine products on cognitive performance or mood change. Therefore, with strong evidence suggesting the beneficial effects of polyphenol-rich food on cognitive and mental health, there are incentives to investigate the possible benefits of muscadine wine polyphenols.
This trial will be a randomized cross-over clinical trial. Twenty-eight participants aged 50-65 who meet the inclusion criteria will participate in the trial. Dealcoholized muscadine wine will be our treatment beverage, and juice with matching sugar and organic acid contents will be our placebo beverage. Participants will drink 300 mL of the beverages daily, which is equivalent to two glasses of whole muscadine wine.
A range of cognitive performance and mental features including attention, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, verbal learning, episodic memory, working memory, processing speed, mood, and anxiety will be assessed using NIH Toolbox on iPads, which is an NIH-validated and approved approach. We will measure improvements in cognitive performance by running statistical analyses on the baseline score against the scores after the consumption of the treatments along with their respective controls.
There is no cure for AD, but there are treatments that may change disease progression, as well as drug and non-drug options that may help alleviate symptoms.18 Consuming muscadine wine polyphenols is not an alternative to current treatments, but by studying their effects on cognition and mood, they could potentially serve as a preventative measure.
Overcoming Barriers in Human Studies
Studies that involve human participants often come with challenges. For example, exposure to single-dose or six-week interventions may not be enough to produce significant effects on the measured outcomes. In addition, we expect the participants to follow dietary restrictions and consume the beverages as instructed. We cannot control everything they eat or drink; therefore, it’s important to develop a plan to monitor and remind the participants to follow the instructions such as sending out weekly follow-up emails and completing dietary records assessments.
What’s more, participants may drop out partway through the study, which can be a problem since it’s a crossover study. We will ask each participant to come in four times over a 119-day period, so some might not commit to completing the study.
Overall, polyphenols are well-recognized for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. With solid evidence suggesting the beneficial effects of polyphenol-rich food on cognitive and mental health, we are motivated to investigate the possible benefits of muscadine wine polyphenols and the underlying mechanisms of these benefits.
Kylee (Chuqiao) Mai is a first-year food science master’s degree student. She graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2019 and worked as a food scientist before coming to the University of Florida. She enjoys cooking and eating good food.
- National Institute on Aging. How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated? https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-alzheimers-disease-treated (accessed Mar 18, 2023).
- Kumar Singh, A.; Cabral, C.; Kumar, R.; Ganguly, R.; Kumar Rana, H.; Gupta, A.; Rosaria Lauro, M.; Carbone, C.; Reis, F.; Pandey, A. K. Beneficial Effects of Dietary Polyphenols on Gut Microbiota and Strategies to Improve Delivery Efficiency. Nutrients 2019, 11 (9).
- 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimers Dement 2022, 18 (4), 700–789.
- Mokdad, A. H.; Bowman, B. A.; Ford, E. S.; Vinicor, F.; Marks, J. S.; Koplan, J. P. The Continuing Epidemics of Obesity and Diabetes in the United States. JAMA2001, 286 (10), 1195–1200.
- Prevalence of Major Depressive Episode Among Adults https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression (accessed Aug 1, 2022).
- Prevalence of Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder (accessed Aug 1, 2022).
- Juszczyk, G.; Mikulska, J.; Kasperek, K.; Pietrzak, D.; Mrozek, W.; Herbet, M. Chronic Stress and Oxidative Stress as Common Factors of the Pathogenesis of Depression and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Role of Antioxidants in Prevention and Treatment. Antioxidants (Basel) 2021, 10 (9).
- Krikorian, R.; Nash, T. A.; Shidler, M. D.; Shukitt-Hale, B.; Joseph, J. A. Concord Grape Juice Supplementation Improves Memory Function in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment. Br. J. Nutr. 2010, 103 (5), 730–734.
- Lamport, D. J.; Lawton, C. L.; Merat, N.; Jamson, H.; Myrissa, K.; Hofman, D.; Chadwick, H. K.; Quadt, F.; Wightman, J. D.; Dye, L. Concord Grape Juice, Cognitive Function, and Driving Performance: A 12-Wk, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Crossover Trial in Mothers of Preteen Children. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2016, 103 (3), 775–783.
- Alharbi, M. H.; Lamport, D. J.; Dodd, G. F.; Saunders, C.; Harkness, L.; Butler, L. T.; Spencer, J. P. E. Flavonoid-Rich Orange Juice Is Associated with Acute Improvements in Cognitive Function in Healthy Middle-Aged Males. Eur. J. Nutr. 2016, 55 (6), 2021–2029.
- Kennedy, D. O.; Bonnländer, B.; Lang, S. C.; Pischel, I.; Forster, J.; Khan, J.; Jackson, P. A.; Wightman, E. L. Acute and Chronic Effects of Green Oat (Avena Sativa) Extract on Cognitive Function and Mood during a Laboratory Stressor in Healthy Adults: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study in Healthy Humans. Nutrients 2020, 12 (6).
- Scholey, A. B.; French, S. J.; Morris, P. J.; Kennedy, D. O.; Milne, A. L.; Haskell, C. F. Consumption of Cocoa Flavanols Results in Acute Improvements in Mood and Cognitive Performance during Sustained Mental Effort. J Psychopharmacol (Oxford) 2010, 24 (10), 1505–1514.
- Lamport, D. J.; Dye, L.; Wightman, J. D.; Lawton, C. L. The Effects of Flavonoid and Other Polyphenol Consumption on Cognitive Performance: A Systematic Research Review of Human Experimental and Epidemiological Studies. NUA 2012, 1 (1), 5–25.
- Haskell-Ramsay, C. F.; Stuart, R. C.; Okello, E. J.; Watson, A. W. Cognitive and Mood Improvements Following Acute Supplementation with Purple Grape Juice in Healthy Young Adults. Eur. J. Nutr. 2017, 56 (8), 2621–2631.
- Whyte, A. R.; Schafer, G.; Williams, C. M. Cognitive Effects Following Acute Wild Blueberry Supplementation in 7- to 10-Year-Old Children. Eur. J. Nutr. 2016, 55 (6), 2151–2162.
- Watson, A. W.; Haskell-Ramsay, C. F.; Kennedy, D. O.; Cooney, J. M.; Trower, T.; Scheepens, A. Acute Supplementation with Blackcurrant Extracts Modulates Cognitive Functioning and Inhibits Monoamine Oxidase-B in Healthy Young Adults. J. Funct. Foods 2015, 17, 524–539.
- Zhu, W.-L.; Shi, H.-S.; Wei, Y.-M.; Wang, S.-J.; Sun, C.-Y.; Ding, Z.-B.; Lu, L. Green Tea Polyphenols Produce Antidepressant-like Effects in Adult Mice. Pharmacol. Res. 2012, 65 (1), 74–80.
- Haseeb, S.; Alexander, B.; Baranchuk, A. Wine and Cardiovascular Health: A Comprehensive Review. Circulation 2017, 136 (15), 1434–1448.
Looking for more posts exploring graduate research projects in the FSHN Department at the University of Florida?
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