Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia. Science has observed changes in the brain that show decades before the disease surfaces. According to a study carried out by the Italian neurologist Lisa Mosconi, eating a Mediterranean diet helps lower the risk of some of these changes that signal the onset of the disease. The study results suggest that one can help prevent this common neurological disorder by eating Mediterranean-style food. What is also important is to focus on having stable blood sugar levels and getting the right nutrients that strengthen and protect the brain.
The risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease increases with age. Other risk factors are smoking, too much alcohol, overweight, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Only two percent of the cases are directly linked to genetic flaws.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by plaque deposits of beta-amyloid protein and small amounts of tau protein. As time passes, these protein accumulations destroy the brain cells, causing them to die. Alzheimer’s disease is also characterized by insulin resistance and lack of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that brain cells use to communicate.
Alzheimer’s disease is a slowly progressing condition that results in death after about 7-10 years. It is therefore essential to start preventing it as soon as possible.
Typical insidious Alzheimer’s symptoms:
Vital differences between Mediterranean diets and normal Western diets influence brain activity
Lisa Mosconi, the Italian neurologist, is Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. Using brain scans, she has managed to show differences in brain activity in people that eat more Mediterranean-style food and those with a typical Western diet.
Mediterranean diets typically contain quite a lot of fish and shellfish, vegetables, beans, nuts, fruit, and healthy fats such as olive oil. In contrast to this, the Western diets contain fewer vegetables, more read meat, unhealthy fats and quite a lot of refined sugar. According to Lisa Mosconi and her team of scientists, these differences may explain why the brain scans showed poorer brain activity in people that consumed Western diets.
In the new study, Mosconi and her colleagues looked at changes in the brain over a period of time. 34 participants on Mediterranean diets and 36 people consuming Western diets were included in the trial. The volunteers were 30-60 years of age and showed no signs of dementia at baseline.
Brain scans were conducted at study start and two years later, at the earliest.
Deposits occur in the brain long before Alzheimer’s symptoms show
The first brain scans revealed that people on Western-style diets already had larger deposits of beta-amyloid plaque compared with those, who ate Mediterranean diets. Also, the energy turnover in certain parts of the brain was reduced in people eating Western diets compared with those consuming Mediterranean diets, suggesting reduced brain activity in the affected areas of the brain. Both the increased amount of plaque deposits and the reduced brain activity are early signs of dementia.
The follow-up brain scans showed even greater differences between two diet groups. Apparently, factors such as age, gender, and genes did not influence the brain condition in the different brain scans.
Early dietary intervention is vital
Mosconi explains that the observed brain changes are only seen in the parts of the brain that are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and in relatively young adults. The evidence points to dietary factors as having a huge impact on the risk of developing the disease. If people don’t eat a healthy, balanced diet, they must improve their food choices and start selecting foods that contain the nutrients and antioxidants that support and protect the brain.
According to the scientists, eating a Mediterranean diet can delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as three and half years compared with a normal Western diet. Also, fewer people that eat a Mediterranean diet develop Alzheimer’s disease. The study is published in Neurology.
Lisa Mosconi calls for larger studies with more participants and a longer time frame to confirm the results. We also need a better understanding of what it is in the Mediterranean diet that has the protective effect on these harmful brain changes.
B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Earlier studies have shown that large doses of B vitamins can slow down mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is an early stage of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One study showed that B vitamins are not effective, unless there is enough omega-3 (EPA and DHA), which we get from oily fish and fish oil supplements. The Mediterranean diet is particularly rich in B vitamins and oily fish, and it also contains generous quantities of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, and different plant compounds that protect brain cells against oxidative stress. There is also a study showing that borderline vitamin A deficiency may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Make sure to keep your blood sugar stable as part of the prevention
People with Alzheimer’s disease have insulin resistance in the brain tissues. This is a condition that impairs the cells’ ability to absorb glucose. Science often refers to insulin resistance of the brain as type 3 diabetes. This is perfectly in line with Mosconi’s observation of lower activity in certain parts of the brain that are affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Insulin resistance of the brain also causes abnormally elevated insulin levels that are believed to cause inflammation and deposits of beta-amyloid plaque. It is therefore essential to maintain stable blood sugar levels to prevent the disease, and a good idea is to get plenty of chromium, an essential trace element that increases insulin sensitivity.
Other useful tips for preventing Alzheimer’s disease
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