Cucumbers come in many varieties- from the long English subtype to the smaller variations commonly used in pickling. Known for their high water content (roughly 95%), cucumbers have a very low calorie density with 1 cup clocking in at only 16 calories. Despite the large amount of water, however, cucumbers are still loaded with nutrients that are actively being researched for their neuroprotective effects. Many of these plant-derived nutrients have received attention for their anti-inflammatory and brain health benefits, while being rid of the side effects associated with pharmaceuticals. One such class of nutrient is the flavonoid. 

This botanical compound has potent anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-oxidative functions and research is ongoing to further clarify their potential to modulate and prevent the transformation of cancerous cells. Flavonoids are a class of plant proteins, regularly consumed in the human diet and richly found in fruits and vegetables including cucumber, apple, strawberry, and onion. In plants, flavonoids are responsible for the pigmented color and smell of flowers and function in part to aid pollination. Further, flavonoids protect plants from environmental stresses, such as frost, drought, and bacteria. For these reasons, flavonoids are beginning to be investigated for potential benefits in human health.

In a 2020 article published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, the research team led by Dr. Yun-Cheng Wu sought to determine the clinical impacts of one such flavonoid and understand the potential use for this compound as a treatment approach for neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The flavonoid of interest is fisetin – one of the most abundant and biochemically active compounds in cucumbers. In this study, the researchers used a mouse model of PD to safely study the effects of the compound. 

The researchers demonstrated that fisetin could markedly alleviate the levels of proteins in the brain associated with neurodegeneration. The mechanism by which this is induced was initially uncertain, but hypothesized that fisetin may alter the number, diversity, and distribution of gut microbiota in animal models of PD. These findings indicated that fisetin may have a neuroprotective effect through alterations of the composition of gut bacteria and could be a potential therapeutic target for PD. 

The benefits of fisetin may extend beyond protection and therapy for neurodegenerative disease. In a recently (2021) published paper in NeuroReport by the Jianzhou team in China, the researchers evaluated the neuroprotective potential of fisetin in animal models of spinal cord injury (SCI). When compared to animals who received the placebo medication, those treated with fisetin had significantly reduced inflammatory protein markers and pain sensation when their behaviour was evaluated. When the brain and spinal cord were evaluated under the microscope, it was found that those who received fisetin supplements had reduced degeneration and death of the brain cells and toxic inflammation. 

While there is some evidence that fisetin may be beneficial for the treatment and prevention of neurodegenerative disease, research is ongoing to further explain the mechanism of action and safety of supplementation. As it stands currently, we know that increased intake of fruits and vegetables, including cucumbers, permits increased consumption of flavonoids where its anti-oxidative effects on the body are widely protective against harmful effects of inflammation.