With Alzheimer’s deaths continuing to rise and researchers forecasting that number of individuals with the disease in the U.S. will triple by 2030, the need to gain a better understanding of what causes Alzheimer’s has never been greater. Now a small, new study has opened the possibility that a person’s diet plays a vital role in whether they develop Alzheimer’s.
Diets high in saturated fats can cause the brain to lose an important chemical that protects against the disease. According to researchers, dietary saturated fat deduces the level of the chemical apolipoprotein E (ApoE) in the body, which helps to remove amyloid beta proteins from the brain.
Individuals with diets high in sugar and saturated fat showed lower levels of ApoE in their bodies, which made the chemical less effective at removing amyloid beta proteins from the brain.
When allowed to remain in the brain, amyloid beta proteins have a higher risk of developing into plaques that disrupt the function of brain neurons. This type of plaque is always found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s.
An individual’s diet also affected the level of amyloid beta found in his or her cerebrospinal fluid. Those with diets high in saturated fat showed increased levels of the protein in their spinal fluid when compared to those whose diet contained low levels of fat. This becomes troublesome as the more amyloid beta the body retains, the higher a person’s risk the protein becomes toxic.
The results of the study were published in online in the journal JAMA Neurology.
A small scale study, researchers from Seattle’s Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System worked with 47 participants, 27 of which suffered from mild cognitive impairment, precursor for Alzheimer’s, while the remaining 20 enjoy normal brain function.
Each participant, all of which were 65 or older, were randomly placed on a diet that each contained the same number of calories but were either low or high in saturated fat. The diets that contain high levels of saturated fat provided 45 percent of a dieter’s energy from fat, and over 25 percent from saturated fat alone. Conversely, individuals on low fat diets received only 25 percent of their energy from fat, and just seven percent from saturated fat.
In just one month, researchers found that the diets caused significant changes in the levels of ApoE and amyloid beta found in a participant’s spinal fluid. Based on the data, researchers feel confident in saying that a person’s diet can greatly influence how effectively their body removes harmful toxins from the brain, which could potentially reduce their long-term risk of developing dementia.
While the effect of diet on brain function needs further study, researchers can’t conclusively say that an improved diet will eliminate a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. However, diet has long been an undervalued part of how an individual’s brain functions, and this study does help to strengthen that notion that a diet that’s good for the heart is also good for the brain.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of API/AMS, a machine shop in Portland.