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Alzheimer's Disease & Nutrient Intake

Sunday, September 25, 2016

In the study of ageing principles, we’ve learned that ageing should not be feared, but embraced. However, certain conditions sometimes associated with ageing must be addressed. 

Alzheimer’s disease is one of these.

The fear of Alzheimer’s is almost as disabling as the disease itself. Many signs of ageing (particularly memory problems) are taken as signs of Alzheimer’s, and can be moderated by physical and mental activity. But when the diagnosis appears to be certain, in addition to proper medical care, there are certain things that can be done to reduce its progression. Let’s look at some of these.
Proper diet can make a real difference in longevity and delaying Alzheimer’s. Obesity more than triples the risk for Alzheimer’s and early death.  The Okinawa Centenarian Study (ongoing for more than 20 years) found that these long-lived people typically consume fewer calories (less than 1,900 calories per day) than most Americans (up to 2,600 per day). Their diet also contains more protein (fish) and kelp (considered a ‘superfood’ due to its significant mineral content) than the typical American diet.

What does lowering the calorie intake do?  It appears to reduce the amount of beta-amyloid protein forming plaques in the synapses of nerve cells in the brain. A 2012 Mayo Clinic study found that people who consumed more than 2,100 calories a day were more likely to have cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.
To be on the safe side I recommend that older patients consume fewer than 1,800 calories daily. This is modified by activity levels and health history. Restricting calories has other benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic inflammation, body fat, and the need for insulin. It is believed that lowering calorie intake also improves the level of formation of new brain cells or neurogenesis.

Recent research has revealed that you do not need as much carbohydrate for energy as previously thought.
Ketones, another source of energy, are manufactured from stored fat, and ketones produce fewer waste products and put less stress on cells when used for energy. When carbohydrates are reduced, as with high-fiber beans and whole grains in moderation, insulin need is reduced and blood sugar is better controlled.

Many senior facilities serve dinner at 5pm, and breakfast after 7am, allowing a period of at least 12 hours of fasting – during sleep.
Going without food, particularly carbohydrates, for more than 12 hours, allows the body to start manufacturing ketones from stored fat. This type of fasting, sometimes called time-restricted eating, has been found to reduce inflammation, improve metabolism and reduce insulin need. This in turn appears to improve brain health.

The Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Science recommends getting 10% to 35% of calories from protein. Which proteins are best? Five ounces of cooked salmon has about 36 grams of protein, about one half of the total needed per day for older people who are not seriously involved in athletics or bodybuilding. In general, protein-rich foods are high in the B vitamins (B-6, B-12) and folic acid, important for memory and other brain functions. Chicken, eggs, nuts, and legumes are also good, perhaps limiting red meat to once a week. One important study found that people who eat a lot of saturated fat (as in rich desserts, red meats and fried foods) may be more than two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

Scientific evidence is showing that there are only a few specific foods that appear to fight Alzheimer’s: fatty fish (wild salmon, mackerel and sardines, rich in omega-3 fatty acids), curcumin (as in the spice Tumeric), and cocoa (containing flavanols that have been linked to reduced blood pressure and improved cognitive function).

Whereas drugs such as Metformin (used to improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes), Rapamycin (researched for immunosuppressant and anti-tumor properties), and phytochemical antioxidants such as resveratrol (in grape-skin and red wine) have provoked some interest in the scientific community, none have been scientifically proven to extend life or reverse cognitive loss in humans.

In summary, no one specific nutrient has been found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, but an adequate diet, nutritional supplements, reduction of caloric intake, proper rest (plus physical and mental exercise), appear to offer the best protection against cognitive decline and Alzheimers.

Spencer Thornton, MD.