Alzheimer's: Dr Chris discusses the early signs of condition
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Dementia is a destructive set of symptoms associated with brain decline. Memory loss, which starts off mild at first, eventually leads to a complete dissociation from reality, as knowledge of self and loved ones fades. However, green shoots continue to emerge in the fight against dementia. Research suggests you can modify your risk of brain decline by overhauling your diet.
According to Harvard Health, this means cutting back on foods high in cholesterol and fat.
Why? The health body says foods high in cholesterol and fat might “speed up the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain”.
These sticky protein clusters are blamed for much of the damage that occurs in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease – the most common cause of dementia.
It’s worth mentioning that this theory has been brought into disrepute after a recent six-month investigation by the journal Science reported “shockingly blatant” evidence that the findings underpinning this theory for decades may have been fabricated.
Nonetheless, that steak you’re about to slice into is loaded with saturated fat, which is known to raise blood levels of unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol builds up in, and damages, arteries. “We know that’s bad for your heart. There is now a lot of evidence that it’s also bad for your brain,” said Doctor Francine Grodstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Indeed, a study published in the journal Annals of Neurology found women who ate the most saturated fats from foods such as red meat and butter performed worse on tests of thinking and memory than women who ate the lowest amounts of these fats.
The exact reason for the connection between diets high in saturated and trans fats and poorer memory isn’t entirely clear, but the relationship may be mediated by a gene called apolipoprotein E, or APOE. This gene is associated with the amount of cholesterol in your blood, and people with a variation of this gene, called APOE e4 are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
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“About 65 percent of individuals who wind up with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease in their 60s and 70s have that gene,” said Doctor Gad Marshall, assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study.
This finding is backed up by a 2021 study published in The American Journal of Human Nutrition.
In the study of more than 1,200 people, researchers found that individuals with higher levels of saturated fats in their blood were more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
However, other studies provide a more mixed picture, so definitive conclusions cannot be drawn.
For example, Scientists from the University’s Nutritional Epidemiology Group used data from 500,000 people, discovering that consuming a 25g serving of processed meat a day, the equivalent to one rasher of bacon, is associated with a 44 percent increased risk of developing the disease.
But their findings also show eating some unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork or veal, could be protective, as people who consumed 50g a day were 19 percent less likely to develop dementia.
Nonetheless, a consensus has formed around the risk of eating too much red meat.
For example, many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.
The Government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less.
Processed meat is any meat that has been treated to preserve it and/or add flavour – for example, bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat or chicken nuggets.
Additional risk factors
In addition, the latest research suggests that other factors are also important, although this does not mean these factors are directly responsible for causing dementia.
- Hearing loss
- Untreated depression (though depression can also be one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease)
- Loneliness or social isolation
- A sedentary lifestyle.
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