Alzheimer’s disease: prevent & slow the progression with your diet
Why low fat is important?
Apolipoprotein E is the glycoprotein which binds cholesterol and transports it. This protein in strongly linked to progression of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD): it binds to both soluble and aggregated forms of amyloid-Beta and influence further production of plagues, which is a pathological hallmark of the disease. (1)
Higher levels of cholesterol has been directly linked to increased Amyloid-Beta production, faster progression of the disease and decreased onset by a decade.
Avoiding trans fats and saturated fats should be a priority for all people. In particular by those affected by AD. This means avoiding:
- Processed or packaged food
- Red meat (try to limit white meat, once every couple of weeks max)
- Dairy products
10% of your daily calories should come from fats. So what fats are best for your brain? REMEMBER to consume in moderation and prepare to savour mouth-watering goodies such as:
- Avocados and durian they deliver not only a great source of vegetal fats, but are also packed with vitamins B (see below why these vitamins are particularly important for AD sufferers) and tryptophan, the building block of serotonin, helping to boost your mood too.
- Walnuts, flaxseed and olive oil Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to reduce inflammation and to improve cardiac function (fundamental to maintain a healthy brain)
- Salmon, tuna, herring and mackerel They are Omega-3 fatty acids containing DHA. There are plenty of studies supporting DHA intake improves cognitive performance. (2,3)However, remember that these type of fish are large enough to store high levels of mercury from our polluted waters. High levels of mercury are linked to Alzheimer’s disease degeneration. Eat fish no more than once a week or take supplements (remember from the studies the minimum effective dose in preventing and slowing the progression of the disease was 100 mg daily of DHA).
Arm your cells to fight ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species)
Amyloid-Beta peptides iduce production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), leading to cell damage and apoptosis (cell death).
A compelling number of evidences show that anti-oxidant rich foods, especially Vitamin A, C and E, beta-carotene as well as oestrogen are protective to neurodegeneration.
Other antioxidants, including cysteine, glutathione, lipoic acid, anthocyanidins, and co-enzyme Q10 and melatonin may also prove important.
In simple terms this means eating a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables – at least six portions a day- and seeds.
Avoid supplements for Vitamins, they are usually of one type only (alpha-tocopherol), whilst the plant offers you the whole forms of Vitamin E, which is key to neuroprotection.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E appears to not only play a key role in early prevention, but also in slowing down the progression of the disease. Compared to the drug Selegiline (prescribed to AD patients), consumption of Vitamin E proved to be more effective. (4,5,6)
Leafy greens (such as Swiss Chard, Spinach, Kale and Mustard Greens)
Papaya and kiwi
Bell peppers (also a Vitamin C store)
Start juicing your veggies and fruit. Heat alters their properties. Eat them raw!
- Vitamin C
Yellow and red bell peppers
Dark leafy greens (Kale)
Citrus fruits (Oranges, Pomelo, Clementines, Lemons)
Remember: your absorption of Vitamin C increases if you intake iron with it. Why not try a spinach-orange-carrot juice? Sounds weird but, it is delicious!
- Phytoestrogen These are chemicals structurally related to oestrogen which are produced by plants and can easily bind to oestrogen receptors (meaning that we do not need to induce more endogenous production of oestrogen to get the benefits of the actions of this neuroprotectant, hence avoiding possible unwanted effects both in men and women).
You can find them in:
Soya products (Stay away from GMO soy products). (Tofu, Tempeh, Soy milk, soy beans, Soy spread and yoghurts)
Seeds: flaxseeds, lentils, chickpeas, mung beans, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
- Flavonoids are strong anti-inflammatory, inhibiting ROS production and stimulating anti-inflammatory mediators, modifying effects of aging. (7)
Parsley (Best eaten fresh)
Dark Chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
Ginko Biloba -The herb Ginkgo Biloba has also demonstrated potential memory enhancing effects in the elderly; however, the plant effects are not evident with moderate to severe dementia. Moreover, it can reduce the effectiveness of MAO inhibitors (make sure to talk to your doctor before taking this supplement if you are on medication). (8)
B Vitamins vs Homocysteine
Homocysteine is a neurotoxin, which can directly damage the medial temporal lobe (the the area of the brain that rapidly degenerates in Alzheimer’s disease). (9)
B Vitamins convert the toxic and brain damaging homocysteine into two very useful chemicals called glutathione – an antioxidant – and the amino acid called SAMe. SAMe is vital for ‘methylation’, (a key chemical process, which keeps the brain’s chemistry in balance).
Low levels of folic acid (B9), B6 and B12 lead to raised homocysteine levels, triggering dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. (10,11)
There is a robust body of evidences that lowering homocysteine by giving appropriate supplemental levels of homocysteine lowering nutrients, including B6, B12 and folic acid, reduces the rate of cognitive decline along with a reduction in the rate of brain shrinkage. (11, 12, 13, 14)
A simple blood test can measure your homocysteine level and if it is above 9mmol/l ensure to start supplementing with B6, B12 and folic acid.
Certain drugs such as methyltraxate are anti-folate. If you are on an anti-folate drug you should discuss with your doctor before taking large amounts of folic acid.
- Folic acid (B9) rich foods:
Beans and lentils
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Tuna, turkey and chicken
There are other nutrients that help lower homocysteine, such as zinc-rich foods (wheat germ, cashew nuts, spinach and dark chocolate).
Increase your acetylcholine levels
Zinc, Magnesium and B Vitamins (especially pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) are also essential to convert the primary precursor nutrient phosphatidyl choline onto acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter fundamental to synaptic communication.
As the disease progresses the cells deputed to synthesis of acetylcholine are damaged and its levels decrease dramatically.
Currently, many medicines for dementia and Alzheimer’s block the breakdown or re-uptake of acetylcholine.
You can boost this action by increasing the levels of available acetylcholine. In order to aid these reactions, methylation is essential and so make sure to intake enough Vitamin B5, zinc and magnesium. (15)
Curcumin (Turmeric), an ancient Indian herb used in curry powder has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory actions, which improve the cognitive functions in patients with AD.
Curcumin decreases Beta-amyloid plaques, delays degradation of neurons, so that the overall memory in patients with AD is improved. (16)
Alzheimer’s disease & cannabis
You can discover how cannabis can help Alzheimer’s patients check out this article.
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- Holtzman DM et al. Apolipoprotein E isoform-dependent amyloid deposition and neuritic degeneration in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. (2000)Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 97(6):2892-7
- M. Morris, et al.. Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol, vol 60, pp. 940-946 (2003)
- Yurko-Mauro K, McCarthy D, Rom D, et al; Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimers Dement. 2010; 6, 456-64
- M. Morris et al., ‘Dietary intake of antioxidant nutrients and the risk of incident AD’, JAMA, Vol 284(24), pp. 3230-3237. Also see pp.3223-61
- M. Morris et al., ‘Vitamin E and vitamin C supplement use and risk incident Alzheimer disease’, Alzheimer Dis and Assoc Disorders, Vol 12, 1998, pp. 121-6
- M. Sano et al., ‘A controlled trial of selegiline, alpha tocopherol or both as treatment of AD’, New Eng J Med, Vol 336, 1997, pp. 1216-22
- Martinez-Micaelo, N.; González-Abuín, N.; Ardèvol, A.; Pinent, M.; Blay, M. T. (2012). “Procyanidins and inflammation: Molecular targets and health implications”. BioFactors 38 (4): 257–265
- Ihl R; Bachinskaya N; Korczyn AD; Vakhapova V; Tribanek M; Hoerr R; Napryeyenko O (2010). “Efficacy and safety of a once-daily formulation of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in dementia with neuropsychiatric features: a randomized controlled trial”. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry: 1186–94.
- S. Seshadri et al. Plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for dementia and AD. N Engl J Med, vol 346(7), pp. 476-483.(2002)
- T. Bottiglieri et al. Plasma total homocysteine levels and the C677T mutation in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene: a study in an Italian population with dementia. Mechanical Ageing Development, vol 122(16), pp. 2013-2023 (2001)
- Oulhaj A, Refsum H, Beaumont H et al; Homocysteine as a predictor of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s Disease. Int J Geriatric psychiatry, 2010; 25(1): 82-90
- Durga J, van Boxtel MP, Schouten EG et al; The effect of 3-year folic acid supplementation on cognitive function in older adults in the FACIT trial: a randomized, double blind, controlled trial. Lancet, 2007; 369(1):208-216.
- Smith AD, Smith SM, de Jager CA et al., ‘Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial’, Public Library of Science ONE, 2010;5(9).
- Aisen PS, Schneider LS, Sano M, Diaz-Arrastia R et al; High-dose B vitamin supplementation and cognitive decline in Alzheimer disease. JAMA, 2008; 300(15):1774–83
- McDaniel MA et al “Brain-specific” nutrients: a memory cure? Nutrition. 2003 Nov-Dec; 19 (11-12): 957-75
- Shrikant Mishra, Kalpana Palanivelu “The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview”. Ann Indian Acad Neurol.(2008)11(1): 13–19