Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the National University Health System (NUHS) have found that low levels of ergothioneine (ET) in blood plasma, which can be a predictive biomarker, can help in identifying cognitive impairment and dementia.
ET is said to be a unique diet-derived compound that can be found in specific cells and tissues, including the lungs, blood cells, brain, liver, and eyes.
The results from the recent study by the NUS-NUHS research team can help in suggesting possible therapeutic or early screening measures for cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly.
Published in the scientific journal Antioxidants, the study showed the potential of ET as a predictive biomarker for cognitive impairment and dementia in elderly people.
It was conducted in more than 470 elderly patients for five years at the Memory, Aging and Cognition Centre.
In the study, the ET levels in the blood plasma of the participants were measured and their cognitive and functional abilities were followed at different time points.
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They revealed that participants with lower levels of ET showed poorer cognitive performance in the beginning of the study.
The study also demonstrated an increased rate of decline in cognitive and functional abilities over the follow-up period.
NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine Department of Biochemistry professor Barry Halliwell said: “Before this study, there was little evidence that ET levels in the blood can predict the risk of developing cognitive issues.
“The current study is significant because it measured the ET levels of elderly participants before developing dementia. Our findings demonstrate that if your ET levels are low, your risk of developing cognitive problems increases.”
Structural changes in the brain were also seen from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the participants.
It suggests that the relation between a low ET level in blood and cognitive decline was due to underlying disease pathology.
Based on the study results, the research team now aims to collect further evidence of preventive and therapeutic potential of ET through a double-blinded placebo-controlled clinical trial.
Currently, the team is recruiting people over the age of 60 years with mild cognitive impairment.