One of the compounds contained in green tea can influence the facial development of children with Down’s syndrome in their early years, according to a study by researchers from the university of Leuven.
Down’s syndrome occurs when a child is born with an extra copy of the chromosome 21, which leads to physical and mental disorders to a greater or lesser degree. One gene in particular, known as DYRK1A, has an effect on the development of brain and bone cells.
The Leuven team found that a component of green tea, EGCG, can suppress the activity of DYRK1A.
In a first phase, the EGCG was given to pregnant mice – and thereby to the babies — in their water in either a low or a high dose.
“A low dose of the extract had a positive effect on the mice that model Down’s syndrome,” said Professor Greetje Vande Velde of the department of imaging and pathology, one of the lead authors.
“Sixty percent had a face shape similar to the control group without the Down’s syndrome model.”
However the high dose produced less promising results.
“In some cases, facial development in the mice was even disturbed, resulting in further malformation,” said Prof. Vande Velde. “We found this not only in the model for Down’s syndrome, but also in other mice.”
The research then moved on to an observational study involving 287 children up to the age of 18, including 76 children with Down’s, 13 of whom were taking EGCG, the others not. The researchers made a detailed 3D model of each child’s face, and found that there was an overall difference of 57% between the models of children who did not take EGCG and children without Down’s, in the group aged zero to three years.
In the Down’s children taking EGCG, however, the differences from the control group went down to 25%. In other words, Down’s children on EGCG resembled children without Down’s more closely.
The effect was less evident in children aged 13 to 18, where facial features are at or closer to their final form. Even after starting to take EGCG, the differences between Down’s and control remained over 50%.
The researchers issued a caveat, however.
“Our results indicate that the dosage plays an important role,” said Prof. Vande Velde.
“Green tea supplements with EGCG are available over the counter and many people use them to promote their general health. It is very important to follow the European instructions for use and to always seek medical advice before use,” she said.
“With our research we show that a low dose has potentially beneficial effects on facial development, but at the same time that a high dose in mice produces unpredictable results. More research in humans is needed to determine the optimal dosage for each age group and to develop the therapeutic potential.”