You can help your brain, especially as it ages, by eating and drinking right
A diet containing compounds found in green tea and carrots reversed Alzheimer's-like symptoms in mice genetically programmed to develop the disease. The two compounds were EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), a key ingredient in green tea, and FA (ferulic acid), which is found in carrots, tomatoes, rice, wheat and oats.
After three months, the treatment completely restored working memory deficits seen in the Alzheimer's mice. The compounds appeared to help prevent amyloid precursor proteins from breaking up into amyloid beta, as well as reduce neuroinflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.
The amount of EGCG and FA was no more than could be gained from an appropriate diet.
 Mori, T., Koyama N., Tan J., Segawa T., Maeda M., & Town T.
(2019). Combined treatment with the phenolics (−)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate and ferulic acid improves cognition and reduces Alzheimer-like pathology in mice.
Journal of Biological Chemistry. 294(8), 2714 - 2731.
A study involving 116 healthy older adults (65-75) has found that higher levels of several key nutrients in the blood were associated with more efficient brain connectivity and better cognitive performance. In fact, the findings suggest that the level of nutrients governs the strength of the association between functional brain network efficiency and cognitive performance.
The study looked at 32 key nutrients in the Mediterranean diet. The effective nutrients, which appeared to work synergistically, included omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, carotenoids, lycopene, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
A pattern of omega-3s, omega-6s and carotene was linked to better functional brain network efficiency.
Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in fish, walnuts and Brussels sprouts; omega-6 fatty acids are found in flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and pistachios; lycopene is the vivid red pigment in tomatoes, watermelon and a few other fruits and vegetables; alpha- and beta-carotenoids give sweet potatoes and carrots their characteristic orange color.
 Zwilling, C. E., Talukdar T., Zamroziewicz M. K., & Barbey A. K.
(2019). Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain.
NeuroImage. 188, 239 - 251.
A long-running study involving 8225 adults found that self-reported diet during midlife (mean age 50) was not significantly associated with subsequent risk for dementia.
Dietary intake was assessed in 1991-1993, 1997-1999, and 2002-2004, with follow-up for incident dementia until March 31, 2017. Diet quality was assessed using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), an 11-component diet quality score (score range, 0-110), with higher scores indicating a healthier diet.
There were 344 cases of incident dementia developed in the study period. 69.1% of participants were male.
 Akbaraly, T. N., Singh-Manoux A., Dugravot A., Brunner E. J., Kivimäki M., & Sabia S.
(2019). Association of Midlife Diet With Subsequent Risk for Dementia.
JAMA. 321(10), 957 - 968.
Data from a large, long-running Finnish study, involving some 2,500 men aged 42-60, has found that dietary intake of phosphatidylcholine was associated with a reduced risk of dementia (the risk was 28% lower in men with the highest intake compared to the lowest). Men with the highest intake of dietary phosphatidylcholine also excelled in tests measuring their memory and linguistic abilities.
The key sources of phosphatidylcholine in the study population's diet were eggs (39%) and meat (37%).
Choline is necessary for the formation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Earlier studies have linked choline intake with cognitive processing, and adequate choline intake may play a role in the prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.
There was no interaction with the APOE4 gene.
A study using genetically engineered mice found that when they were given high choline in their diet, their offspring showed improved in spatial memory.
Study of the hippocampus found the choline had reduced microglial activation, and thus brain inflammation, and reduced levels of homocysteine by converting it into the more helpful chemical methionine. These effects, achieved through gene modification, passed on to the next generation.
It has long been recognized that choline is particularly important in early brain development.
Ylilauri, Maija P.T. et al. 2019. Associations of dietary choline intake with risk of incident dementia and with cognitive performance: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online July 30, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz148
 Velazquez, R., Ferreira E., Winslow W., Dave N., Piras I. S., Naymik M., et al.
(2019). Maternal choline supplementation ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease pathology by reducing brain homocysteine levels across multiple generations.
Molecular Psychiatry. 1 - 10.
A mouse study has found that canola oil in the diet was associated with worsened memory, worsened learning ability, and weight gain in Alzheimer's mice.
Canola oil-treated animals also had greatly reduced levels of amyloid beta 1-40 (the “good” version), leading to more amyloid-beta plaques (made from amyloid beta 1-42), and a significant decrease in synapses.
The mice were given the equivalent of about two tablespoons of canola oil daily. The mice began their enriched diet at 6 months of age, before they developed any signs of Alzheimer's.
A previous study by the same researchers found that Alzheimer’s mice fed a diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil had reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau and experienced memory improvement.
Moreover, olive oil reduced inflammation in the brain, improved synaptic integrity, and dramatically increased levels of autophagy (the process by which waste products from cells are cleared away).
 Lauretti, E., & Praticò D.
(2017). Effect of canola oil consumption on memory, synapse and neuropathology in the triple transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientific Reports. 7(1), 1 - 9.
 Lauretti, E., Iuliano L., & Praticò D.
(2017). Extra-virgin olive oil ameliorates cognition and neuropathology of the 3xTg mice: role of autophagy.
Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. 4(8), 564 - 574.
A Finnish study involving over 1000 older adults suggests that a counselling program can prevent cognitive decline even among those with the Alzheimer’s gene.
The study involved 1,109 older adults (aged 60-77) of whom 362 were carriers of the APOE4 gene. Some of the participants received regular lifestyle counselling (general health advice), while the rest received “enhanced” lifestyle counselling, involving nutrition counselling, physical and cognitive exercises, and support in managing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Earlier findings from the FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) trial showed that the regular lifestyle counselling group had a significantly increased risk of cognitive and functional impairment compared to the group receiving enhanced counselling. This analysis shows that this holds true even for those with the Alzheimer's gene, and indeed, might even be more helpful for carriers of the risky gene.
The findings emphasize the importance of early prevention strategies that target multiple modifiable risk factors simultaneously.
 Solomon, A., Turunen H., Ngandu T., Peltonen M., Levälahti E., Helisalmi S., et al.
(2018). Effect of the Apolipoprotein E Genotype on Cognitive Change During a Multidomain Lifestyle Intervention: A Subgroup Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial.
JAMA Neurology. 75(4), 462 - 470.
A pilot study involving 106 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had experienced a stroke followed participants for an average of 5.9 years, testing their cognitive function and monitoring their eating habits using food journals. It was found that those whose diets scored highest on the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet score had substantially slower rates of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest. The estimated effect of the diet remained strong even after taking into account participants' level of education and participation in cognitive and physical activities. Those who instead scored high on the Mediterranean or DASH diets did not show the same slower decline.
Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets have been shown to be protective against coronary artery disease and stroke, but this finding suggests the MIND diet is better for overall brain health.
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. It has 15 components: 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups (red meat, butter, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food).
To adhere to the MIND diet, you need to
The researchers stress that this is a preliminary study, observational only. They are currently seeking participants for a wider, intervention study.
Laurel J. Cherian & Martha Clare Morris: Presentation at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2018 in Los Angeles, January 25.
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