Apigenin, a flavonoid found in some spices and herbs, may improve neuron formation and strengthen connections between brain cells, researchers from D’Or Institute for Research and Education reported. Findings from the study were published in Advances in Regenerative Biology

Apigenin is found in parsley, thyme, chamomile, and red pepper. This is the first research to show the positive effects of apigenin directly on human cells and the first to explain its mechanism. Earlier animal studies had demonstrated that flavonoids had a beneficial impact on memory and learning. Along with scientists from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), study authors found that neurons formed from human stem cells within 25 days after applying apigenin. The neurons also established “stronger and sophisticated connections among themselves after being treated with this natural compound,” said the authors.

Apigenin was shown to work by binding onto estrogen receptors, which affect the development, maturation, function, and plasticity of the nervous system. These hormones are known to slow the onset of various psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders including schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Use of these hormone-based therapies has been limited due to increased risk of estrogen-dependent tumors and cardiovascular issues. 

Study researchers concluded that apigenin may be used as a future option for treatments of neurodegenerative disorders as well as in neuronal differentiation strategies in laboratory. A diet rich in flavonoids may also impact neuron formation and their communication in the brain, they added.


Souza CS, Paulsen BS, Devalle S, et al. Commitment of human pluripotent stem cells to a neural lineage is induced by the pro-estrogenic flavonoid apigenin. Advances In Regenerative Biology. 2015; doi:10.3402/arb.v2.29244.

This article originally appeared on MPR