According to two recent studies, a healthy diet might not only reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease but it may slow or even reverse cognitive impairment in patients in the early to moderate stages of the disease. Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 5.3 million Americans, is the leading cause of dementia and the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
The first study led by Domenico Praticò, an Associate Professor of Pharmacology in Temple University’s School of Medicine in Philadelphia, followed up on earlier research in which he had demonstrated that a diet rich in methionine could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Methionine is an essential amino acid typically found in red meats, fish, beans, eggs, garlic, lentils, onions, yogurt and seeds.
The researchers wanted to find out if it is possible to slow down or reverse the effects of a bad diet even after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The answer is yes, at least in mice. They found that after two months on a healthy diet, mice previously fed a methionine rich diet had reversed the cognitive impairment it had caused and could function normally.
Dr. Pratico believes that the findings may prove useful in humans and show that even if you suffer from the early effects of Alzheimer’s, switching to a healthier diet that is lower in methionine could be helpful in improving memory capacity.
In another recent study on humans, Columbia University researchers found that people who ate foods associated with heart and brain health had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The lead author Dr. Yian Gu, noted that since there is no cure, prevention is key, and that diet is probably the easiest way to modify disease risk.
For four years, researchers collected information on the eating habits of 2,148 healthy people over 65 years old. Over the course of the study, 253 developed Alzheimer’s.
The study concluded that the diet of those least likely to develop the disease included more salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables, as well as a lower intake of high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat, and butter.
Dr. Gu suggested that the diet may work both because it is rich in heart-healthy foods, protecting the brain from strokes that could make it vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, and because the diet is rich in nutrients such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins B12 and E, antioxidants and folate which directly protect the brain.
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