Study Points to Importance of Diet in Fight Against Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Ever since watching Mom lose her battle against Alzheimer’s disease (and her mother before that), I find myself being much more aware of lifestyle factors that I potentially can control that can help me avoid a similar fate. And a new – albeit small – study offers a tantalizing clue about one change that may lead to big results.

    This study, which is out of the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, found that eating a diet that is high in saturated fat actually depletes the brain of a key chemical that protects against Alzheimer’s disease. The research involved 20 older adults who were an average age of 69 who had normal cognition as well as 27 adults who were an average age of 67 who had amnestic mild cognitive impairment.

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     The participants were randomly assigned to diets that had the same amount of calories, but different quantities of fat. One of the diets was high in saturated fat content and with a high glycemic index. This diet included 45 percent of the energy from fat (of which more than 25 percent was saturated fat), 35-40 percent from carbohydrates with a glycemic index averaging above 70 and 15-20 percent from protein. (According to the University of Sydney, glycemic index is “a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health.” Examples of high-GI foods include white bread and white rice.) The other group ate a diet that was low in saturated fat content and had a low glycemic index (25 percent of energy from fat (of which less than seven percent was from saturated fats), 55-60 percent from carbohydrates that had an average glycemic index under 55, and 15-20 percent from protein.

    The researchers tested the participants’ cerebrospinal fluid and found that within a month, the diets altered the amounts of amyloid beta protein (which when left alone are more likely to form plaques that interfere with the brain’s neuron function and often are seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease) and ApoE (the chemical apoliopiprotein E, which helps clear amyloid beta proteins out of the brain). Their analysis found that a diet that is high in bad cholesterol and simple sugars could interfere with the ApoE’s capacity to clear amyloid.

    So what exactly are saturated fats? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that saturated fats can generally be found in the following foods: high-fat cheeses; high-fat cuts of meat; whole-fat milk and cream; butter; ice cream and ice cream products; and palm and coconut oils. Furthermore, lower-fat versions of these foods often will have smaller quantities of saturated fats than the regular versions.

    To cut back on saturated fat intake, the CDC recommends that you take the following steps:

    • Opt for leaner cuts of meats that don’t have fat embedded in the meat. These include round cuts and sirloin cuts. Also, trim all visible fat off meat before eating.
    • Remove skin from chicken, turkey and poultry before cooking.
    • Skim solid fats off of soups and stews before reheating.
    • Drink low-fat (1 percent) or non-fat (skim) milk instead of whole or 2 percent milk.
    • Purchase low-fat or non-fat varieties of cheeses, milk and other dairy products.
    • Eat a low-fat or fat-free ice cream or frozen dessert since these often contain less saturated fats.
    • Use low-fat margarine spreads instead of butter, and select one that is low in saturated fat and without trans fats.
    • Use the Nutrition Facts label to select baked goods, breads and desserts that are low in saturated fat.
    • Snack foods such as sandwich crackers often contain saturated fat.  Instead, opt for non-fat or low-fat yogurt or a piece of fruit.

    And to lower glycemic index, I’d encourage you to consult the University of Sydney website, which will give you information about specific foods to learn their glycemic index levels.

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    Making these dietary changes are easy to do and could serve as a big step in protecting your brain against Alzheimer’s disease. And that’s one big step I’m willing to make, even though this is a very small study that needs to be duplicated and expanded.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Saturated fats.

    Hanson, A. J. (2013). Effect of apolipoprotein e genotype and diet on apolipoprotein 3 lipidation and amyloid peptides. JAMA Neurology.

    MedlinePlus. (2013). Saturated fat may make the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

    University of Sydney. (2011). About glycemic index.

Published On: June 18, 2013