Alzheimer’s and Diet: Danielle, registered Dietitian
Decrease inflammation and feed your brain!
Two weeks ago, I talked about eating to reduce inflammatory responses in those with autoimmune disorders. The Functional approach to medicine and nutrition is gaining ground. Research continues to show that food truly does have medicinal properties that can help protect our bodies from chronic disease.
Not everyone can relate to learning how to reverse symptoms of autoimmune disorders, but everyone does have a brain and I’m sure we all want to keep it in tip top shape for as long as possible. According to alz.org, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Alzheimer’s has become the 6th leading cause of death in the United States! With those statistics, you likely know/have known someone with Alzheimer’s or you know someone who does.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alz.org defines Alzheimer’s as a form of dementia in which the symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. Early stages are characterized by mild memory loss. During late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.
Though no cure has been found, researchers at the Mayo Clinic explored the impact of diet on dementia risk. Their findings were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. They followed a group of over 2,000 elderly individuals for close to 4 years and carefully monitored their diets regarding total consumption of protein, fat and carbohydrate. The subjects also underwent mental evaluations every 15 months to determine if they were developing any issues related to dementia.
Here’s what they found: The risk of dementia in those with higher carbohydrate consumption increased by close to 90%. Conversely, those whose calories came more from fat were found to have a reduced risk of becoming demented by around 44%. Higher protein consumption was also associated with reduced dementia risk, by around 21%.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go on the Atkins diet. It’s important to recognize that certain types of carbohydrates—primarily those from processed food sources quickly break down to sugar in our bodies. In my article last week, I explained that high consumption of processed foods and simple sugars increases inflammatory markers called cytokines.
So what does inflammation have to do with Alzheimer’s/dementia and the brain?
In the article “Inflammation in Alzheimer Disease—A Brief Review of the Basic Science and Clinical Literature” published in the Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, anti-inflammatory drugs were studied to observe their role in decreasing brain inflammation. The abstract of the article states that “Biochemical and neuropathological studies of brains from individuals with Alzheimer disease provide clear evidence for an activation of inflammatory pathways, and long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs is linked with reduced risk to develop the disease.” The full article didn’t find conclusive evidence that anti-inflammatory drugs prevented Alzheimer’s but they are continuing to explore that option. The point isn’t to encourage the use of NSAID’s. That could lead to liver damage and gastrointestinal issues. The point is that activation of inflammatory pathways is associated with Alzheimer’s. This is also supported by the Dana Foundation. This article discusses the role of chronic inflammation in the development of Alzheimer’s.
As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.” You can choose to consume foods that decrease inflammation.
Aside from avoiding processed simple carbohydrates, how can you reduce inflammation? According to the Dementia Research Foundation, following the MIND Diet may have benefits. In a study published in the Journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, researchers followed 923 participants, ages 58-98, for 4.5 years. The participants were asked to self-evaluate their diets and also underwent neuropsychological assessments to measure their cognitive abilities and determine their dementia status.
The researchers found that those who strictly adhered either to the MIND or Mediterranean diets were found to have a 50% reduction in the rate of Alzheimer’s disease. Even those who were only moderately adhering to this diet (i.e. had mid-way rating scores) were still found to have a 35% reduction in the rate of Alzheimer’s disease.
The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) emphasizes the consumption of natural plant-based foods and limits intake of animal and high saturated fat foods. It differs from the widely known Mediterranean Diet in that it uniquely highlights the consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables and cautions against foods such as butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, only suggesting to have a couple of servings per week, if at all.
Do you really need any more reason to cut out the junk? ☺
Instead of just focusing on what not to eat, here are foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory and fuel brain function.
- Chia Seeds
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Olive Oil
- Egg yolk
Next week, we’ll tackle why these foods are beneficial for brain health and learn how they decrease inflammation. Until then, feel free to incorporate them into your diet!
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