Research: Mediterranean Diet Cuts Alzheimer's Risk

According to the Associated Press a study published in the Annals of Neurology claims the dissipating Mediterranean diet, thought also to ward off heart disease, may reduce risk of Alzheimers. Lead author Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas explains the research:

The diet he tested includes eating lots of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and fish, while limiting intake of meat and dairy products, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and emphasizing monounsaturated fats, such as in olive oil, over saturated fats. Previous research has suggested that such an approach can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Prior research has also suggested that certain components of the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's, Scarmeas said. But he said the previous work has tended to focus on individual nutrients like vitamin C or foods like fish. By studying a comprehensive diet instead, the new research could take possible interactions between specific foods and nutrients into account, he said.

Spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association Dr. Marilyn Albert believes the study's message is clear:

The kinds of things we associate with being bad for our heart turn out to be bad for our brain.

Before you rush off to buy a vat of olive oil, consider Dr. Fuhrman's thoughts on the Mediterranean Diet. From his book Eat to Live:

Even two of the most enthusiastic proponents of the Mediterranean diet, epidemiologist Martin Katan of the Wageningan Agricultural University in the Netherlands and Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, concede that the Mediterranean diet is viable only for people who are close to their ideal weight.1 That excludes the majority of Americans. How can a diet revolving around a fattening, nutrient-deficient food like oil be healthy?

Ounce for ounce, olive oil is one of the most fattening, calorically dense foods on the plant; it packs even more calories per pound than butter (butter: 3,200 calories; olive oil: 4,200). The bottom line is that oil will add fat to our already plump waistlines, heightening the risk of disease, including diabetes and heart attacks.

A recent edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times newsletter (they are archived in the member center) addresses Alzheimer's. This is from the main article:

Alzheimer's dementia is an irreversible brain disorder that typically develops in the elderly. It leads to memory loss, personality changes, and a general decline in cognitive function.

With the high incidence of Alzheimer's disease in our aging population, more and more research is underway to come up with novel treatments for this brain disease. Given the large distortion of brain architecture that occurs in Alzheimer's, it is unlikely that drug treatment will offer a solution to this debilitating problem.

Growing evidence has implicated vascular risk factors, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol in the etiology of Alzheimer's disease. Cerebral ischemia (lack of blood flow secondary to lipid deposits), aided by marginal nutritional deficiencies, promotes the development of the pathology seen in Alzheimer's.2

Recent studies conducted in the United States have revealed that just as in heart disease, strokes, and vascular dementia, Alzheimer's disease is the end result of nutritional inadequacy earlier in life. Patients with Alzheimer's, compared with controls, showed deficiencies of multiple vitamins, especially the antioxidants found in vegetables and fruits.

Green vegetable consumption was low and animal fat consumption was high in the past histories of Alzheimer's patients.3,4 Japanese studies have found the same relationships: individuals with low consumption of vegetables and high consumption of meat were found to be the ones most likely to develop Alzheimer's.5

Just as in the case of heart disease, the world's leading researchers on the subject consider diets high in animal fat to be the major factor in the causation of Alzheimer's. Oxidative stress to our brain tissue from the combination of a diet rich in saturated fat and low in the antioxidants and phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables lays the groundwork for brain damage later in life. Deficiencies of DHA (a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid) which often are found in Alzheimer's patients, also have been shown to promote dementia.6 Inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids found in flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, leafy greens,and certain fish also are implicated in the etiology of Alzheimer's.

Aluminum Connection
The aluminum present in processed foods also may play a role in accelerating the development of Alzheimer's. Recent evidence has shown that high body stores of aluminum can potentiate the damage to brain DNA from a low body load of antioxidants.7,8 Aluminum calcium sulfate is used as an anti-caking agent so dry ingredients flow freely. Aluminum sulfate is used as a bleaching agent in flour and cheese. Aluminum stearate is used as a chewing gum base and as a defoaming component in the processing of sugar. Aluminum chloride and aluminum sulfate are used as leavening agents in baked goods. Cookies, cakes, cold cereals, and pancakes are all high in aluminum.

Fortunately, when you eat a diet low in processed foods and rich in vegetables, beans, fresh fruit, and nuts and seeds, you dramatically decrease your dietary exposure to aluminum and increase the level of antioxidant compounds in your brain.

Isolated nutrients
Taking vitamin E, vitamin C, or other isolated nutrients has been shown to be only slightly useful and cannot be expected to offer you a significant degree of protection against dementia. That is because vitamins are only a small part of the antioxidant story. For example, the vitamin C in an apple accounts for less than one half of one percent of the antioxidant activity in a whole apple. Most of the antioxidant activity in the apple (and in fruits and vegetables in general) is the result of phenols, flavonoids, carotenoids, and other compounds that work additively and synergistically to protect you against disease.

Multifactorial Causes
The development of Alzheimer's follows the same basic pattern seen in almost every disease affecting aging Americans. Diseases are multifactorial and develop as a result of environmental stresses, the most damaging of which are almost always nutritional excesses and deficiencies. Once these stresses have taken their overall toll, you develop one disease and not another, based on your inherited genetic tendencies and your inherent resistance to certain degenerative processes.

Recipe for Protection
The bottom line is that if you follow the Eat To Live dietary recommendations, you need not fear developing dementia later in life. A comprehensive nutritional program throughout life that includes the following important features can assure freedom from both heart disease and dementia as you age:
1. a vegetable-based diet;
2. high intake of greens, both raw
and cooked, and in soups containing
beans;
3. at least four fresh fruits a day;
4. daily consumption of raw nuts and seeds or avocado as your major fat source;
5. dramatic reduction or elimination of processed foods, sugar, white
flour, and animal products;
6. limited consumption of grains, in favor of colorful vegetables;
7. supplementation to assure adequate levels of vitamins D and
B12, iodine, and DHA fatty acids;
8. blood evaluation of homocysteine and, if needed, supplementation
to normalize.

1. Katan, M.B., S.M. Grundy, and W.C. Willett. 1997. Heart disease risk-factor status and dietary changes in the Cretan population over the past 30 years: the Seven Countries Study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 65 (6): 1882-86.
2. Sadowski M, Pankiewicz J, Scholtzova H, et al. Links between the pathology of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Neurochem Res 2004; 29(6):1257-1268.
3. Otsuka M, Yamaguchi K, Ueki A. Similarities and differences between Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia from the viewpoint of nutrition. Ann NY Acad Sci 2002;977:156-161.
4. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol 2003;60(2):194-200.
5. Otsuka M. Analysis of dietary factors in Alzheimer's disease: clinical use of nutritional intervention for prevention and treatment of dementia. Nippon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi 2000;37(12):970-973.
6. Conquer JA, Tierney MC, Zecevic J, et al. Fatty acid analysis of blood plasma of patients with Alzheimer's disease, other types of dementia, and cognitive impairment. Lipids 2000;35(12):1305-1312.
7. Hegde ML, Anitha S, Latha KS, et al. First evidence for helical transitions in supercoiled DNA by amyloid Beta Peptide (1-42) and aluminum: a new insight in understanding Alzheimer's disease J Mol
Neurosci 2004;22(1-2):19-31.
8. Suay Llopis L, Ballester Diez F. Review of the studies on exposure to aluminum and Alzheimer's disease. Rev Esp Salud Publica 2002;
76(6):645-658.

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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Robin K - April 21, 2006 2:02 PM

My boyfriend's dad has just experienced a rapid decline due to dementia at 77. He was a lifelong diabetic and had horrible eating habits--lots of meat very little veggies. He's also had ongoing heart complications from a heart attack earlier in life too. To stay informed, my boyfriend printed pages and pages of articles off the web while his dad is being treated with scary "new dementia drugs" at his new home of two months--a local nursing home. In any case, this one concise article is more powerful and insightful than the stacks of info my friend printed and read on dementia. I'm giving this to him right away! It's too late for his dad, but he better connect the dots and start following some of this advice for his own sake too. Thank you

anet - April 21, 2006 9:20 PM

Robin, I am very sorry about your boyfriend's father. My husband's mother received a dx of Alz a couple of years ago..she was pretty much on what I call the Willet diet for most of her life (whole grains, lean meats and some vegetables) and in GREAT physical shape, a beautiful woman. She had been on HRT for years (which increases risk of Alz) and statins (which have dubious benefit for prevention). She was on a Alz "cocktail" and we really couldn't see that it helped her. Which reminds me...
..here's a story on NPR I heard yesterday.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5352086

Oh, let me recommend a book we found helpful -- Its titled : The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with Alzheimer's-Type Dementia by Naomi Feil

rayvegnj - June 14, 2008 10:29 PM

Another great book on natural preventions is ''50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People ''

50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People by Sally Beare (Paperback - Dec 20, 2005)

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