January 6th, 2012 at 3:26 pm
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Can a healthy diet prevent Alzheimer’s?

by Carol Bursack

According to a study recently published in the online version of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, people who consume diets high in several vitamins or in omega 3 fatty acids are less likely to have the brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease than people whose diets are not high in those nutrients.

The report states:

“Those with diets high in omega 3 fatty acids and in vitamins C, D, E and the B vitamins also had higher scores on mental thinking tests than people with diets low in those nutrients. These omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D are primarily found in fish. The B vitamins and antioxidants C and E are primarily found in fruits and vegetables.”

Alzheimer’s disease and omega 3 fatty acids

Numerous studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids, found mostly in oily fish such as salmon, or taken in supplement form, are good for heart and brain health. The Alzheimer’s Association has information on diet that is similar to the findings of this study on brain shrinkage. We have the information, but whether or not we follow the suggested dietary steps is left to our own human habits and food preferences.

Some of us eat fish several times a week and all of the recommended servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. I congratulate those people and use their admirable dietary habits as a health model that I could aspire to. However, I truly doubt that I’ll ever eat that well. Most of the people I know wouldn’t qualify for a daily gold star for meeting optimal dietary requirements, either.

Eating well should always be a priority. For those of us who are less than perfect about our diet, however, there are fish oil supplements available. There are also high quality vitamin supplements on the market. Many if not most doctors today prescribe fish oil supplements for their aging patients because of proven benefits for the heart as well as Vitamin D. Those same nutrients are likely helping to preserve the brains of many of these same people.

Preventing Alzheimer’s? Eating well key to good brain health

Study authors say their findings need to be confirmed by more research. However, this was the first study to use nutrient biomarkers in the blood to analyze the effect of diet on memory and thinking skills and brain volume.

Earlier studies had relied on questionnaires and people’s memory of what they ate. Also, they didn’t take into account the fact that aging bodies don’t absorb nutrients as readily as young bodies. Early studies also tended to study one nutrient at a time. Therefore, this study is considered a first in not only the scientific methods used for monitoring results, but in its scope of nutrients studied.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging and National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the US Department of Veteran Affairs, Portland VA Medical Center. I like to see this type of cooperation between agencies. Health through nutrition, especially when it includes supplementation, is typically focused on by alternative medicine advocates.

The mainstream agencies involved in this study are putting together some real information we can use now. No waiting for drug trials. No worrying about safety issues. Just some information and self-discipline. We may want to shrink our waistlines, but we don’t want to shrink our brains. Check with your doctor and you’ll likely be told to take omega 3 supplements if you don’t get enough oil fish. Keeping our brains plump and our waistlines thin seems to be the way to go.

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