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Diet affects dementia risk

13th April 2010

Diets rich in polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts, and fish may have a powerful effect on the development of Alzheimer's disease.

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The researchers found that these and other healthy foods can reduce people's risk of Alzheimer's disease by up to 40%.

The sharp reduction can also come from poultry, as well as certain fruits and vegetables.

Lead researcher Yian Gu, an Alzheimer's disease researcher at Columbia University in New York, said that diet was probably the easiest way for people to modify their disease risk.

Some of the foods in the diet Gu's team recommends are full of nutrients researchers have long known to be associated with Alzheimer's risk.

The absence of certain saturated fatty acids, such as are found in red meat and butter, is also an important factor in the new diet.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are among the substances that help protect the brain against Alzheimer's.

Vitamin E, vitamin B12, and folate also have a similar protective effect.

For the study, the research team collected dietary information from 2,148 healthy people, 253 of whom later developed Alzheimer's disease.

All of the study subjects were over the age of 65.

Most of the subjects were followed for about four years, during which time doctors routinely checked them for Alzheimer's disease.

At the end of the study, the research team concluded that the consumption of olive oil, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, and cruciferous and dark green leafy vegetables drastically reduced Alzheimer's risk for all of the study participants.

Gu said that the reason why the diet worked in favour of people's brains could be two-fold.

She said that, because the healthy diet was just as heart-healthy as it was brain-healthy, it made people much less likely to have strokes.

The study is not the first to link positive health to a "Mediterranean diet" high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats, and experts have long thought that dementia might be linked to nutrition

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said that people should adapt their lifestyles if they wanted to reduce their risk of dementia, although no diet or lifestyle could completely eliminate dementia risk.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, which affects more than 26 million people around the world.


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