Scientists have found that the extracts of two Mediterranean plants could extend the lifespan of a dementia patient by more than six years.
Components of the ‘prickly pear’ and ‘brown seaweed’ could help protect against the proteins which build up in someone’s brain, causing conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Dr Neville Vassall, of the University of Malta School of Medicine and Surgery, said: “We have long been screening plants scattered across the Mediterranean for small molecules that interfere with the build-up of toxic protein aggregates.
“The robust effects of chemicals derived from the prickly pear and brown seaweed confirm that our search has certainly not been in vain.”
The researchers tested the effects of the plant extracts on the dementia-causing protein beta-amyloid hidden inside the brains of flies.
Specimens treated with seaweed extract had their lifespan prolonged by two days, while those treated with prickly pear extracts had theirs extended by up to four days.
Compared to human years, this adds about two and four years respectively.
They added that the mobility of the flies improved by about 18 per cent after treatment.
Dr Ruben Cauchi, lead author of the study, continued: “We believe that the discovery of bioactive agents that target pathways that are hit by multiple neurodegenerative conditions is the most viable approach in our current fight against brain disorders.
“A clear advantage of the drugs used in this study is that, in view of their excellent safety profile, they are already on the market as nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals.
“If the findings hold in clinical trials, the Mediterranean is set to become a source for the ‘elixir of life.”