Study Hints at Food's Role in Protecting the Brain from Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide February 18, 2013
  • As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that a healthy diet serves as a potent weapon in fighting off disease. Obviously, medications can be helpful, but I really would rather be proactive than having to depend on the pharmaceutical industry’s latest discoveries, if at all possible And new research is hinting that food choices may make a difference in relation to one of the scariest conditions facing many of us, Alzheimer’s disease.


    New research out of the University of Southern California Davis’s School of Gerontology found that mice that had later stages of Alzheimer’s disease actually improved their cognitive abilities when they were fed a protein-restricted diet that was supplemented with specific amino acids every other week over a span of four months. These mice performed better on mazes when compared to mice that did not eat the protein-restricted diet. The researchers also found that the mice that ate the protein-restricted diet had fewer neurons that contained abnormal levels of tau, the damaged protein that accumulates in the brain when there’s Alzheimer’s disease.


    The researchers pointed out that dietary protein is the primary dietary regulator of IGF-1, a growth hormone that’s been associated with aging and disease in mice as well as several diseases in older adults. By eating a protein restricted diet, IGF-1 levels that were circulating through the body were reduced by 30-70 percent. Furthermore, this type of diet also resulted in an increase in a protein that binds to IGF-1, thus blocking the growth hormone from having an effect.
    Now researchers want to find out if humans will have a similar response during clinical trials. They also will analyze the effect of dietary restrictions on other conditions, including cancer, diabetes and cardiac disease.


    However, Dr. Valter Longo, a USC professor and the study’s corresponding author, noted that doctors may want to use these early findings to encourage patients to adopt a protein-restricted diet. "Although only clinical trials can determine whether the protein-restricted diet is effective and safe in humans with cognitive impairment, a doctor could read this study today and, if his or her patient did not have any other viable options, could consider introducing the protein restriction cycles in the treatment – understanding that effective interventions in mice may not translate into effective human therapies," he said in a news release. He cautioned, however, that patients need to be healthy enough to eat this type of diet every other week. He encouraged that any diet be monitored by a doctor or dietician to ensure that the patient doesn’t become deficient in amino acids. Furthermore, caution needs to be taken if the patient is elderly and frail since they do not need to lose weight or develop other side effects through this diet.


    So if you are middle-age and interested in trying to alter your diet a bit to protect your brain, what should you eat? The researchers didn’t elaborate on the diet they fed the mice, but you can a good idea based on recommendations of the Alzheimer’s Association. These recommendations are:

    • Avoid foods high in fat and cholesterol, which clog arteries and are associated with higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
    • However, enjoy good fats that provide HDL (good) cholesterol, such as olive oil.
    • Consume cold-water fish that has beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. These fish include halibut, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna.
    • Eat lots of dark-skinned fruits and vegetables, which have the highest levels of antioxidant levels. Produce you should enjoy include kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets, red bell pepper, onion, corn, eggplant, prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries.
    • Nuts, which are a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, are a good addition to your diet. These can include almonds, pecans and walnuts.

    So if you’re like me and worried about the possibility of Alzheimer’s developing at some time in the future, you may want to begin to tweak your diet now. Sure, the study out of California is only on mice at this point, but it’s not going to be bad for you to make some slow and thoughtful changes to your diet. Eat more produce while limiting beef consumption. Try some new recipes for fish. And snack a bit on nuts. By doing this, you may be providing early protection for your brain.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    Alzheimer’s Association. (nd). Adopt a brain-healthy diet.


    Ho, C. K. (2013). Low-protein diet slow’s Alzheimer’s, improves brain function in lab mice. redOrbit.com.


    Parrella, E. (2013). Protein restriction cycles reduce IGF-1 and phosphorylated Tau, and improve behavioral performance in an Alzheimer's disease mouse model. Aging Cell.


    Perkins, R. (2013). Low-protein diet slows Alzheimer’s in mice. University of Southern California.

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