Research shows that diet plays an important role in cognitive health and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has developed new dietary guidelines for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. The guidelines are similar to a heart healthy diet and include adding certain vitamins and avoiding excess metals such as iron and copper.
Good nutrition the best medicine
Alzheimer’s disease strikes nearly half of Americans who live to at least the age of 85. According to the American Academy of Neurology, the proportion of people affected by Alzheimer’s is expected to triple in the next forty years. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization that conducts clinical research and advocates good nutrition as preventive medicine, doesn’t want to let that happen.
The PCRM presented their guidelines in a report titled “Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention” at the International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain held in Washington DC in July.
“The current generation of clinicians is in a battle over food — especially Alzheimer’s-promoting foods, such as those which contain saturated and trans fats,” said Neal Barnard, MD, PCRM president and lead author of the guidelines. “We potentially have the capabilities to prevent a disease that is poised to affect 100 million people worldwide by 2050. Why wait?”
Eating for Alzheimer’s prevention
Research has shown that a heart healthy diet is also good for the brain. Studies have produced evidence that preventive measures including certain foods and regular exercise can reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent or more. The PCRM recommends avoiding saturated and trans fats, framing the diet around plant-based foods, adding sources of vitamin E and B and avoiding potentially harmful metals.
According to the guidelines, diet staples should include vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), fruits, and whole grains. The diet is built upon foods that have little or no saturated fat or trans fats and are rich in vitamins, such as folate and vitamin B6, that play protective roles for brain health.
Get your vitamins
Vitamin E is an antioxidant associated with reduced Alzheimer’s risk found in many foods, particularly nuts and seeds. Other good sources include mangoes, papayas, avocadoes, tomatoes red bell peppers spinach, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Three B-vitamins—folate, B6, and B12—have been proven essential for cognitive function. These vitamins work together to reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to cognitive impairment. Good folate sources include leafy greens, such as broccoli, kale, and spinach. Other sources include beans, peas, citrus fruits, and cantaloupe. Vitamin B6 is found in green vegetables in addition to beans, whole grains, bananas, nuts, and sweet potatoes.
According to the PCRM, iron and copper are essential nutrients most people get plenty of from everyday foods. Excessive iron and copper intake has been linked to cognitive problems and the committee recommends using multivitamins without added metals. Avoiding the use of cookware, antacids, baking powder, or other products that contribute dietary aluminum is also recommended.
In addition to documenting the foods to indulge in as well as avoid, the PCRM recommends engaging in aerobic exercise equivalent to at least 40 minutes of brisk walking 3 times per week.
Cause and effect
Medical and Alzheimer’s experts commenting on the PCRM guidelines cautioned that the recommendations are supported merely by correlations that have been found between diet and cognitive health, not hard evidence that eating certain foods will ensure mental acuity in old age. However, there is certainly no harm in eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. The cause and effect of taking better care of yourself can be observed every day of your life.