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Can a Good Diet Help Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?

Diet, Inflammation and Alzheimer’s Disease (Philip Hehir DC)

Worldwide, there are around 50-million people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or some other type of dementia. It is said that unless better preventative measures are introduced soon, this number could triple by 2050. Whilst researchers globally pursue pharmacological treatments for these diseases, there is a growing body of evidence on how diet could be used as a preventative, or at least slow down the rate of cognitive decline.

Supporting someone with dementia
Alzheimer's Disease

It is known that certain diets create inflammation within the body, we call these “pro-inflammatory” diets. The typical high sugar, high saturated fat western diet many have become accustomed to falls into that category. This would include highly processed meats, saturated fats, sugars, simple carbohydrates and fizzy drinks. Likewise, there are diets that are naturally “anti-inflammatory,” and it these diets where researchers have found some interesting findings that could slow down the process of brain degeneration.

The two diets which seem to have the greatest research in this field, to date, include the Mediterranean Diet (MD) and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet (DASH).

Healthy Salad example

The MD consists of lots of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, legumes, moderate intake of fish, poultry, and some alcohol. There is a low intake of red and processed meats and most of the fat intake comes from olive oil. Alcohol can be red wine with meals. Numerous studies have found the MD reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is also one of the mechanisms as to how can reduce the risk of AD/dementia. We know that antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables help can reduce oxygen-related stress on brain tissue; like wise omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish have a natural anti-inflammatory effect.

An example I found on the web for a typical MD: For breakfast - a vegetable frittata, with an avocado on wholemeal toast. For lunch - baked salmon on fresh salad, feta cheese, red onion, tomato and wholemeal pitta bread. For dinner – spicy lentil soup. Go online to see other examples of delicious MD recipes.

The DASH diet is very similar to the MD, however it emphasises a reduction in sodium intake (salt); low fat dairy products and little to no alcohol. As the is given in the name, the DASH diet has been shown to reduce hypertension (i.e. long term high blood pressure).

More studies have been done on the MD than DASH, but it seems that over 4-6 years there was a significant reduction in the amount of neurodegeneration compared to controls. It is to note however in another study, that no change was noted at before 6-months. In other words, for this to work, these diets would likely need to be implemented long term.

In addition to these diets, an appreciation of the bacteria in your gut also plays a part. There are in the region of 10-100 trillion microorganisms found in a human gut. The variety and ratios of these different organisms play a huge role in immune function and can be a source of chronic body inflammation which affects neuronal and brain health. These microorganisms are heavily influenced by diet and, particularly the MD, we have seen some improvements in an otherwise “dysbiotic” bowel.

Why not give the MD or DASH diet a try? The long term affects, could make a big difference to your health as you age into the next decade. Your older self will thank you for it!


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