For 32 km along the Welsh countryside there is a range of barren hills called the Black Mountains. In the village of Talgarth, right in the center of the mountain range, sits a former insane asylum that is now the home of a company that may change the future of Alzheimer’s disease. There, they have fields of golden daffodils as far as the eye can see. The company has found the most efficient way to harvest a possibly life-changing natural chemical that has held a reputation throughout history for strengthening the mind and improving memory.
The chemical is an alkaloid called “galanthamine.” In the past, people harvested a flower called the snowdrop because certain companies would pay money for the plant, which they would grind up, put in pills, and sell as memory enhancers. Both snowdrops and daffodils belong to the same family of plants, but the latter are far easier to manage — not to mention cheaper. Researchers in Wales have stumbled upon an amazing finding: daffodils grown in the Black Mountains produce more galanthamine than those grown anywhere else do.
This is how glimmering stretches of daffodils in the U.K. became a beacon of hope to the millions of people who suffer dementia’s greatest form — Alzheimer’s. The first symptom of the disease is often depression. Next comes a gradual loss of short-term memory, which is stored in the brain’s temporal lobe.
The parietal lobe is then affected, which is responsible for procedural movements such as getting dressed. As the disease advances, it hits the frontal cortex, and thus the sufferer loses the ability to recognize people and things.
There is heavy, ongoing research into Alzheimer’s and science still has much to learn about this debilitating disease. We’ve come a long way in Alzheimer’s research. Such as finding certain enzymes that build up to form plaque, how oxidative stress triggers free-radical damage in brain cells, how excess zinc and copper may accumulate, how genetic mutations play a role, as well as a substance called apolipoprotein E.
The most current treatments focus on a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine (ACh), which is involved in memory functions (Alzheimer’s patients seem to have insufficient amounts of this).
Galanthamine works inside the brain to stimulate more production of the ACh neurotransmitter. Some drugs on the market are made with a synthesized version of galanthamine. Currently the drugs to treat Alzheimer’s are expensive and galanthamine is the only natural drug available. One of the reasons behind the Black Mountain daffodil project is to reduce the cost, opening up the possibility of treatment for anyone at any level of income.