Ask the Diet Doctor: Foods to Prevent Alzheimer's
Q: Are there any foods that can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's?
A: Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for up to 80 percent of diagnosed cases. As many as one in nine Americans over age 65 have the disease, which is characterized by the formation of specific plagues in the brain that drive cognitive decline. While two-thirds of Alzheimer's patients are women, the disease does not seem to specifically target women but rather, due to their longer lifespan compared to men, more women are afflicted than men.
Research around the prevention of Alzheimer's disease is ongoing, and a definitive nutritional protocol has yet to be determined. However, there are some eating patterns, foods, and nutrients that research shows may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease.
1. Olive oil. A 2013 review of 12 studies found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Extra-virgin olive oil, preferably first-cold-pressed olive oil due to its higher antioxidant content, is a hallmark staple of a Mediterranean diet. In 2013, preliminary research published in PLosONE found that the most abundant antioxidant found in olive oil, oleuropein aglycone, was effective at reducing plaque formation that was characteristic to Alzheimer's disease.
2. Salmon. The brain is a large repository for the long chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. These fats play an important structural role as part of cellular membranes in your brain as well as policing and quenching excessive inflammation. The theory behind the use of EPA and DHA in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease is strong, but clinical trials have yet to show unequivocal results. This may be due to insufficient dosing of EPA and DHA, or too short of study periods. To date, omega 3s have not been shown to improve situations where Alzheimer's is already present, but there have been positive results regarding slowing cognitive decline prior to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Salmon is a good, low-mercury source of EPA and DHA.
3. Souvenaid. This medical nutritional beverage was developed by researchers at MIT in 2002 to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. It was designed to nutritionally support the formation of new neuronal synapses in the brain and contains omega-3 fats, B-vitamins, choline, phospholipids, vitamin E, selenium, and uridine monophosphate, which is used in the formation of cellular membranes, with particular emphasis on the brain.
Souvenaid is currently not available for sale, but you can get almost all the nutrients found in the formula in your diet via foods such as nuts (sources of vitamin E, B vitamins, and selenium), oily fish (omega-3 fats), and eggs (choline and phospholipids). Uridine monophosphate is found in its mRNA form in many foods, but unfortunately this form is readily degraded in your intestines. So if you want to reap the potential benefits of this compound, supplementation is warranted.
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Finally, it should be noted that your overall health has an impact on Alzheimer's disease risk. Individuals with other health problems such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and even elevated body weight (obesity) can be at higher risk for contracting Alzheimer's disease. By focusing on improving your overall health, you will be able to also reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease.