Individuals who adhere to a Mediterranean diet and have regular physical activity and a normal body mass index can reduce the incidence of protein build-ups associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals and fish and low in meat and dairy, and characterized by a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats, and mild to moderate alcohol consumption.
In the study, 44 adults ranging in age from 40 to 85 (mean age: 62.6) with mild memory changes but no dementia underwent an experimental type of PET scan to measure the level of plaque and tangles in the brain. Researchers at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior also collected information on participants’ body mass index, levels of physical activity, diet and other lifestyle factors. Plaque, deposits of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain; and tangles, knotted threads of the tau protein found within brain cells, are considered the key indicators of Alzheimer’s.
The study found that each one of several lifestyle factorsa healthy body mass index, physical activity and a Mediterranean dietwere linked to lower levels of plaques and tangles on the brain scans. “The fact that we could detect this influence of lifestyle at a molecular level before the beginning of serious memory problems surprised us," said Dr. David Merrill, the lead author.
Earlier studies have linked a healthy lifestyle to delays in the onset of Alzheimer’s; however, the new study is the first to demonstrate how lifestyle factors directly influence abnormal proteins in people with subtle memory loss who have not yet been diagnosed with dementia, Merrill said. Healthy lifestyle factors also have been shown to be related to reduced shrinking of the brain and lower rates of atrophy in people with Alzheimer’s.
“The study reinforces the importance of living a healthy life to prevent Alzheimer’s, even before the development of clinically significant dementia," Merrill said. “This work lends key insight not only into the ability of patients to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but also physicians’ ability to detect and image these changes."
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