Here’s great news for those of us approaching midlife: sticking to a healthy diet at this crossroads could cut your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 90 percent. That’s not a typo! Research from Finland showed that people who ate healthy foods consistently over 14 years actually reduced their Alzheimer’s risk by 90 percent.
We know that food can influence the risk of Alzheimer’s. In January, I blogged about the brain benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. The new study from Finland study showed that eating a lot of food high in saturated fats was associated with decreased cognitive function and an increased risk of dementia. Don’t let that scare you. We know that all saturated fats aren’t alike. Some are bad and some are good, and let’s face it: the scientific verdict on saturated fats is changing. A newly published analysis of the data connecting saturated fat to heart attacks and other heart problems concluded that it just isn’t so (some of the experts commenting on the findings in The New York Times blamed replacing saturated fats with refined carbohydrates – bread, processed foods and those foods high in sugar – for cardiovascular problems).
And if you’ve read my book “The Omni Diet” (now available in paperback) you know that saturated fats aren’t all bad. For instance, stearic acid found in meat and chocolate is a saturated fat that hasn’t been shown to cause the cardiovascular problems linked to other saturated fats. Lauric acid, from coconuts, is another saturated fat that hasn’t been associated with negative health effects.
The author of the study from Finland had some great news for people who were eating badly: they could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by switching to a healthy diet. The study was published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. Here’s some more data to ponder on the connection of diet to Alzheimer’s disease.
Pretty bad, if you’re looking to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. The trouble seems to stem from compounds called advanced glycation endproducts, or AGEs, a feature of the Western diet associated with excess weight, diabetes and – probably – Alzheimer’s disease. New research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City has linked AGEs to brain changes seen with both Alzheimer’s and diabetes. (Did you know that diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s?) Low levels of AGEs occur naturally in our bodies, but you get much, much more of them if you eat a lot of grilled and broiled meat.
The researchers found that feeding mice a Western-style diet raised the levels of AGEs in their bodies and also suppressed enzymes known to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and metabolic syndrome, a pre-diabetic condition. This is actually good news because it suggests that we might avoid or lower levels of those harmful AGEs by changing the way we cook meat. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
But that’s not all. The researchers actually put the AGEs theory to the test in healthy seniors who had memory problems and compared levels of AGEs among them. Over nine months more cognitive decline and insulin resistance were seen in participants who had the highest levels of AGEs. The study was published online on February 24, 2014 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
We have no proof – yet – that we can avoid AGEs by changing the way we cook meat. But study leader Helen Vlassara, M.D. said that using lower heat and more water might do the trick. It wouldn’t hurt to try. Or how about eating eat more fish?
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