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Certain Foods May Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease

July 31, 2010

July 31, 2010

Researchers in New York studied the diets of older men and women and found that certain foods may be especially effective in helping to protect against Alzheimer’s. The findings appeared online in the Archives of Neurology, a medical journal from the American Medical Association.

These brain-healthy foods include:

Conversely, particular foods may be bad for brain health and be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Such foods, the researchers found, include high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat and butter.

The researchers studied the dietary habits of 2,148 older men and women living in northern Manhattan. At the study’s start, all the participants were age 65 or older and free of memory loss or other symptoms of Alzheimer’s. They were given follow-up exams every one-and-a-half years for an average of four years.

Earlier research, including research done by the Columbia group, have shown that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fish, olive oil, fruits, vegetables and red wine and low in red meat and butter may help protect against Alzheimer’s. But many Americans, including the older Caucasians, blacks and Hispanics included in this study, do not follow a Mediterranean style diet.

“Epidemiological evidence linking diet, one of the most important modifiable environmental factors, and risk of Alzheimer’s disease is rapidly increasing,” wrote the researchers, from Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “However, current literature regarding the impact of individual nutrients or food items on Alzheimer’s disease risk is inconsistent, partly because humans eat meals with complex combinations of nutrients or food items that are likely to be synergistic.”

Instead, the researchers this time studied the diet in terms of seven main food groups and nutrients that have been tied to Alzheimer’s risk. They looked at these key food groups, all of which have been linked to an increased or decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Foods that may be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s include total fats, particularly:

Increased intake of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, on the other hand, may be protective against Alzheimer’s:

Additional nutrients that have been linked to better memory and thinking skills as well as a lower risk of Alzheimer’s include:

In the New York study, older men and women were given extensive questionnaires asking about the specific foods they ate daily. During the study follow-up period, 253 of them developed Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers controlled for variables like smoking and alcohol use (moderate drinking, for example, may be good for the brain, whereas excessive drinking is not). One dietary pattern was significantly associated with a reduced risk of the disease. This pattern involved high intakes of salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, fruits and cruciferous and dark and green leafy vegetables and low intakes of high-fat dairy, red meat, organ meat and butter.

The combination of nutrients in the low-risk dietary pattern reflect multiple pathways in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the authors noted. For example, they write, “vitamin B12 and folate are homocysteine-related vitamins that may have an impact on Alzheimer’s disease via their ability of reducing circulating homocysteine levels, vitamin E might prevent Alzheimer’s disease via its strong antioxidant effect and fatty acids may be related to dementia and cognitive function through atherosclerosis, thrombosis or inflammation via an effect on brain development and membrane functioning or via accumulation of beta-amyloid.”

“Our findings provide support for further exploration of food combination–based dietary behavior for the prevention of this important public health problem,” they conclude.

By www.ALZinfo.org. Reviewed by William J. Netzer, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.


Yian Gu, Ph.D.; Jeri W. Nieves, Ph.D.; Yaakov Stern, Ph.D.; et al: “Food Combination and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk: A Protective Diet.” Archives of Neurology, Vol. 67(No. 6):(doi:10.1001/archneurol.2010.84), April 12, 2010.

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