There is a growing pool of evidence that suggests that what you eat is very important to your brain. A range of recent studies have reported a link between dietary habits and specific nutritional factors to the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and/or cognitive decline.
In particular, the benefits to the brain of a low-fat diet rich in antioxidants such as vitamins E and C throughout life are becoming clearer.
Here’s what some of the latest research studies have found :
A diet rich in foods containing vitamin E may help protect against Alzheimer’s in some people, according to a study conducted at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago and reported in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Such foods include vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains. Furthermore, the protective effect was NOT seen when study participants took vitamin E supplements, as opposed to getting more of the vitamin from foods. The most significant protective effect was found among those who had the highest dietary intake of vitamin E (which averaged 11.5 International Units per day); their risk of developing Alzheimer’s was 67 percent lower than people who consumed the least amount of vitamin E from food sources.
In addition, the researchers found that vitamin E is associated with protection against more general cognitive decline. Ongoing clinical trials are investigating whether vitamin E might be useful as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, and if it can be used to help prevent the disease.
A study reported at the 2002 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease found that a low-fat, antioxidant-rich diet was associated with decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, an association that held up even in people who carry the APOE-4 gene, the only known genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that people who ate primarily lean meats (fish and poultry) and fruits and vegetables during midlife had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than people who ate a diet higher in fat and sugar and consisting of larger amounts of red and processed meats.
A Netherlands study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reported a link between high dietary intake of vitamins E and C and protection against Alzheimer’s disease in certain people. Both vitamins have antioxidant properties that experts believe may help reduce damage to nerve cells caused by oxidative stress, which occurs throughout the body as a natural consequence of aging and may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease in ways that are not fully understood.
Two studies point to the importance of B vitamins and levels of homocysteine, a compound found in the blood that has been linked to increased risk of certain cardiovascular conditions, including stroke and damage to the arteries.
The first study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people with increased levels of homocysteine and deficiencies in vitamin B-12 and folic acid, another B vitamin, achieved lower scores on cognitive tests.
A second study, reported at a major Alzheimer’s conference, found elevated homocysteine levels and low levels of vitamin B-12 in African-Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.
Taken as a whole, these and many other studies support the idea that eating the right food throughout your life is just as important to long-term cognitive health as it is to heart health.