A new research suggests that a diet rich in vitamins and fish may protect the brain from ageing while junk food has the opposite effect.
Elderly people with high blood levels of vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids had less brain shrinkage and better mental performance, a Neurology study found.
Trans fats found in fast foods were linked to lower scores in tests and more shrinkage typical of Alzheimer’s.
A UK medical charity has called for more work into diet and dementia risk.
The best current advice is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, not smoke, take regular exercise and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check, said Alzheimer’s Research UK.
The research looked at nutrients in blood, rather than relying on questionnaires to assess a person’s diet.
US experts analyzed blood samples from 104 healthy people with an average age of 87 who had few known risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
They found those who had more vitamin B, C, D and E in their blood performed better in tests of memory and thinking skills. People with high levels of omega 3 fatty acids – found mainly in fish – also had high scores. The poorest scores were found in people who had more trans fats in their blood.
Trans fats are common in processed foods, including cakes, biscuits and fried foods.
The researchers, from Oregon Health and Science University, Portland; Portland VA Medical Center; and Oregon State University, Corvallis, then carried out brain scans on 42 of the participants.
They found individuals with high levels of vitamins and omega 3 in their blood were more likely to have a large brain volume; while those with high levels of trans fat had a smaller total brain volume.
Study author Gene Bowman of Oregon Health and Science University said: “These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet.”
Co-author Maret Traber of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University said: “The vitamins and nutrients you get from eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables and fish can be measured in blood biomarkers.
“I’m a firm believer these nutrients have strong potential to protect your brain and make it work better.”
Commenting on the study, Dr. Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“One strength of this research is that it looked at nutrients in people’s blood, rather than relying on answers to a questionnaire.
“It’s important to note that this study looked at a small group of people with few risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, and did not investigate whether they went on to develop Alzheimer’s at a later stage.
“There is a clear need for conclusive evidence about the effect of diet on our risk of Alzheimer’s, which can only come from large-scale, long-term studies.”
A report of Alzheimer’s disease International (ADI) published in 2009, said there were 35.6 million people were with dementia and Alzheimer’s and it was expected that the number would increase to 65.7 million by 2030.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes. They affect memory, thinking, behavior, intellect, personality and emotion. Symptoms may include loss of memory, difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying, difficulty in performing previously routine tasks, personality and mood change. In the last stage of Alzheimer’s a person is totally dependent of care-givers and might have swallowing difficulties, is very thin and dies of infections or other diseases.
Although age, family history, and genes play a major role in determining Alzheimer’s risk, there are several ways to prevent Alzheimer’s or slower its progression.
Sleep. Getting enough sleep helps to consolidate memory, and an afternoon nap might lock-in long-term memoires faster. Sleep deprivation could stimulate the production of amyloid plaques and cause the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Lack of sleep also affects hormones’ balance and metabolism, leading to diabetes, weight gain, and making a person to look older. Sleeping less than eight hours a night also increases risk of heart attack, stroke, and depression and weakens immune system, so one gets cold much easier.
Getting enough sleep is a way to lower Alzheimer’s risk.
Music. The capacity for music tends to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease differently than other brain functions. “It appears that words to a song get encoded in a different place in the brain than the words we use in speech, and it appears that people with Alzheimer’s actually preserve the music, and the words that go to music, long after much of the rest of the brain is not functioning well,” said Elaine Bearer, professor of neuroscience at the University of New Mexico. Also listening to relaxing melodies, singing or playing an instrument keep the brain in a good shape.
Intellectual activities. People who keep their brains active may be at less risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Reading, engaging in a hobby such as playing bridge or chess, or doing crosswords and word puzzles may help to reduce risk.
Wine. A glass of wine a day appears to reduce the risk of cognitive decline that occurs with normal aging as well as Alzheimer’s. A study found that those who had a drink a day through the years had about a 25% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s in old age compared with those who didn’t drink at all. Heavier drinking increased the risk of cognitive decline more than non-drinking. A glass of wine could also prevent heart and vascular illness and help you to relax and sleep better. However, if you have Alzheimer’s, a liver condition, or other diseases that get worsen by alcohol, you should avoid it.
Stop smoking. Smokers have a 72% greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s found the researchers from the University of California, San Francisco after excluding studies sponsored by the tobacco industry. Industry-funded studies found that smokers had a lower risk. Besides lowering lung cancer’s risk, quitting smoking also can help you to sleep better, thinking more clear, being relaxed. Stopping smoking improves your complexion, reduces your wrinkles, and lowers heart attack and stroke’s risks.
Control blood sugar. A Japanese study showed that diabetes could raise Alzheimer’s risk up to three times. Those with higher than normal blood sugar levels, or prediabetes, also have a higher risk. High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) could be reverse through eight hours a night sleep, weight loss, daily walks, and a reduction in sweets and other processed foods.
Control cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels are associated with changes in the brain that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. A study that examined the brains on autopsy found that participants who had high total cholesterol levels (over 224 mg/dL) in mid- to late life were seven times more likely than those with low cholesterol (under 173 mg/dL) to have the beta-amyloid plaques in their brain when they died a decade or two later. Eating low-fat or fat-free dairy products and limiting your intake of red meat can help lower cholesterol levels. The onion and garlic consumed daily are great helpers in prevention of atherosclerosis, by reducing cholesterol level. Also the goal can be reached through weight loss and daily exercise.
Weight loss. Losing weight can also prevent the Alzheimer’s since a study showed that obesity duration increased type 2 diabetes risk, and other study said the diabetes could raise the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Exercise. A daily walk is good for the brain, and getting yourself sweaty several times a week is even better. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise (brisk walking, biking, swimming, or dancing) can reduce the risk of dementia and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia in old age. After the age of 65, at every five years, the number of people with Alzheimer’s doubles.
Alzheimer’s is common in people over 65, but can affects younger people too.
US Against Alzheimer’s said one in eight 65-year-old already has the disease, which has no effective treatment, and is ultimately fatal.
Although Alzheimer’s appears in people over 65, like legendary crooner Glenn Campbell (75), early-onset dementia can be found in younger persons, like basketball coach Pat Summitt (59).