In recent years, stories about Alzheimer’s disease have led a significant number of news broadcasts. Whether the story is about researchers discovering a promising new treatment or daunting statistics about what Alzheimer’s in the future will look like without a cure, few adults haven’t heard about the increasing numbers of people developing the disease.
While drug studies are apt to get the lion’s share of publicity, not all research has focused on drug development. Some researchers have studied what nutrition from food and supplements can do to ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Naturally, as is in the case with most research, there is disagreement among investigators. Some scientists argue against the theory that lifestyle changes may affect our Alzheimer’s risk, while others champion their own study results showing that lifestyle changes may prevent or reverse the disease.
Even though researchers may disagree about proof - or lack thereof - that nutrition affects Alzheimer's disease, few would argue against solid nutrition as beneficial to overall health.
CNN.com, the Mayo Clinic, and most recently, Huffington Post have published stories that praise the Mediterranean diet as the healthiest diet for heart health as well as assisting in the prevention of other diseases. Since many scientists would agree that what is good for the heart is good for the brain, “other diseases” could likely include Alzheimer’s.
A Mediterranean diet is the diet naturally eaten by people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea where their natural resources are harvested and eaten fresh from the ground or the ocean. This diet, in general, consists of olive oil, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, fruit and green leafy vegetables. Their diets typically contain low levels of high fat dairy products, red meat, organ meats and butter.
In October of 2012, I wrote a post explaining how nutrition may help prevent Alzheimer’s.
…2148 New Yorkers aged 65 or older without dementia at the beginning of the study reported their dietary practice. These participants were examined every year and a half for neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease. The study was lead by Y. Gu of the Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University in New York...Gu found that men and women who closely followed a dietary pattern that is similar to a Mediterranean diet were 38 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease during a 3.8 year follow-up.
The Alzheimer’s Association agrees. According to their website, “Age and family history/genetics are major risk factors, but emerging research is suggesting that lifestyle factors including diet and exercise can also play an important role in prevention.” The site goes on to describe the typical Mediterranean diet as a key factor in dietary health.
Vitamin D3 also shows promise
The second study I covered in the October 2012 article was about vitamin D as a nutrient that may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease:
…a review recently published in the journal Neurology, assessed 37 studies that evaluated vitamin D concentrations and cognitive function. While the studies included various age groups, most participants were men and women over 65. The authors conducted two meta-analyses: one to compare the mean vitamin D concentration between participants with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and controls, and one to compare mean mental status scores between participants with low vitamin D levels and those with higher levels.
This study showed that people with lower levels of vitamin D scored lower on the mental status tests.
Researchers have found that many diseases we suffer from as we age are at least partly influenced by our life-long diets. Heart disease and Type 2 diabetes have both been shown to be somewhat reversible if dietary changes are made before damage becomes too advanced. These scientists have yet to reach the point where they can guarantee that swapping butter for olive oil and candy for nuts will definitely protect our brains. However, what’s the harm in trying to use solid nutrition as a weapon against disease?
Most of us are aware that foods low in fiber and high in processed sugar and saturated fats are not “health foods.” Changing our cravings for these foods is easier said than done. However, if we take it step by step, perhaps we can gradually improve our health.
In general, there’s no downside to a Mediterranean diet. If, in the end, we find that we may have kept our brains as well as our hearts healthier, that’s a priceless bonus. Of course, anyone with health problems should clear this or any diet with their physician. Food sensitivities and allergies may require adjustments in the diet to avoid certain foods.
Smith, G. Can a Mediterranean diet lower my risk of Alzheimer's? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-disease/AN02036
Nutrition and healthy eating: Mediterranean diet: Choose this heart-healthy diet option. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011
Huffington Post (2013, February 2) 7 Foods That Reduce Your Alzheimer's Risk. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/23/alzheimers-prevention_n_2734550.html
Jampolis, M. (2011) How can nutrition help prevent Alzheimer's? CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/expert.q.a/11/04/nutrition.alzheimers.jampolis/index.html
Liu, D. (2012, October 29) Dietary pattern identified to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Food Consumer.org. Retrieved from http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Nutrition/Diet/dietary_pattern_identified_to_prevent_alzheimer_s_1029120741.html
Gibson, J. (2012, October 29) D is for Dementia – Vitamin D and Brain Health. BrainBlogger.com. Retrieved from http://brainblogger.com/2012/10/29/d-is-for-dementia-vitamin-d-and-brain-health/
Published On: March 05, 2013