Could Nutritional Intervention Really Prevent Alzheimer’s?

We all know the old saying, “you are what you eat” — but while focusing on neurological health, how do the foods you eat, influence your ability your brain’s ability to function?

It’s no secret that a balanced, whole food diet reduces your risk of numerous diseases. So, a burning question remains — if you changed the way you eat right today, could you actually influence your brain? More specifically, by eating certain foods, is it possible to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s?

Based on a new study, it appears that the short answer is yes. Using brain imaging techniques, researchers were able to demonstrate the value of nutritional intervention. Let’s take a closer look at what they found, and what this means for symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Study Finds — Nutritional Intervention May Be An Ideal Tactic

As mentioned, a new study has been released, focusing on possible dietary approaches. Published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers were able to showcase the possible effects of omega-3 fatty acids in relation to Alzheimer’s. More importantly, how this essential fatty acid influences anti-amyloid, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tau actions within the brain.

For years, fish has been labeled as ‘brain food’ — but based on this study, the results are a major advance in relation to the potential benefits of nutritional intervention. Here are some of the key aspects of the study in relation to the method and results:

  • Overall, the researchers found that patients who consume high levels of omega-3 fatty acid, exhibited greater blood flow in specific areas of the brain.

  • Using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), researchers are able to measure blood flow in the brain. When participants are performing certain cognitive tasks, for instance, blood flow will become more visible in certain areas of the brain.

  • When comparing the Omega-3 Index (a measure of the blood concentration of participants in relation to two key fatty acids — EPA and DHA), there was a significant correlation between a higher Omega-3 Index and greater blood flow.

  • Drawing 166 random subjects from a psychiatric referral clinic, where Omega-3 Index results were available, participants were then categorized into two groups — those who had higher EPA and DHA levels (>50th percentile) and those with lower concentrations (th percentile).

  • Implementing a SPECT test, 128 regions of the brain were analyzed, in addition to each participant completing a computerized test, measuring their neurocognitive status. What they found, was that a significant relationship was apparent in relation to the Omega-3 index and memory.

Based on these recent findings, it’s clear that a relationship exists between lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids and reduced blood flow in the brain. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids may also provide further insight regarding the effect these healthy fats have on learning and depression as well. This study now provides a stepping stone for further research, focusing on possible dietary changes and their impact on cognition.

How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Influences Neural Health

As discussed above, recent research is further proving the positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids on both cardiovascular and neural health. While focusing on the key benefits of these essential fatty acids, blood flow is certainly a key area of interest. This makes sense — as the heart and the brain are connected.

Based on dementia research, we now know that what’s good for our heart, is also generally good for our brain. When blood vessels are healthy, individuals tend to yield a lower risk of dementia.

What’s the link here?

Well, when it comes to dementia, the two most common causes are 1) Alzheimer’s and 2) vascular dementia. While aiming to reduce risk factors, individuals often need to address those that precede heart disease or a stroke — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and habitual smoking.

Based on both causes of dementia, it’s clear that patients experience a reduction in blood flow within the brain. This is why the recent study discussed above, is so exciting. Researchers were able to identify a correlation between omega-3 fatty acid levels in the blood and the associated rate of blood flow within the brain.

In addition, here are some of the ways that omega-3 fatty acids protect your brain and overall health:

  • A professor at Harvard Medical School, Chenghua Gu, found that omega-3 fatty acids are critically important when aiming to preserve the blood-brain barrier. Essential for preserving and protecting the brain, this ‘barrier’ reduces one’s risk of exposure in relation to bacteria, pathogens, and toxins.

  • As stated in Nature, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, can influence synaptic function and cognition based on plasma membrane fluidity. Meaning, this fat is essential when aiming to maintain plasma membranes and overall synaptic function.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids act as precursors for anti-inflammatory signaling molecules. This helps balance out the high consumption of omega 6 within modern society, improving neural health and overall well-being.

What Other Foods Have a Positive Effect On Neural Health?

In addition to the two portions of fish you consume a week (which is the minimum recommendation), you may be wondering, what else can I eat to reduce my risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia? Although this is not a definitive list, it’s certainly an ideal place to start:

  • Dark leafy greens — after evaluating the eating habits of 923 older adults, over the course of five years, it was found that a single serving of leafy green vegetables a day may help to prevent dementia. This includes options such as kale, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, etc. Although these leafy greens offer a wide range of nutrients, it’s believed that vitamin K may play a key role in the brain. These benefits were reported in addition to other goods related to the ‘MIND’ diet.

  • Whole grains — when seeking ‘whole’ grains, you will be in the market for foods that contain the entire grain seed, including the outer bran layer, the germ layer, and the endosperm. That way, you obtain high levels of minerals, fat, vitamins, protein, and fiber. Some of the best whole grains for Alzheimer’s prevention include, bulgar, brown rice, quinoa, unrefined oats, buckwheat, and millet.

  • Berries — based on a key study, it appears that blueberries may improve memory and cognitive function in older adults. This may be due to their high concentration of flavonoids known as anthocyanins — which have been shown to improve animal cognition.

Some of the other foods mentioned throughout the research include, but are not limited to: pumpkin seeds, walnuts, coconut oil, turmeric, cinnamon, flax seeds, cruciferous vegetables, and dark chocolate.

In addition, you should cut out all processed foods. This will significantly reduce your exposure to toxins within your diet — and you should also be mindful of your consumption of alcohol, sugar, and caffeine.

At this time, although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, you can take proactive action. Your diet and the nutrients you feed your body and mind, will significantly impact your risk of not only neurological conditions, but also diseases that affect your heart.

After all, as T. Colin Campbell said, a well-respected biochemist who specializes in nutrition, “Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence — all parts are interconnected.”

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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