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Diet, Obesity and Alzheimer's Disease
I was asked recently about the relationship between diet and Alzheimer's Disease. This is a great question since we tend to focus on more traditional health benefits of eating well like heart disease, stroke and diabetes. This was in response to a recent study published in the journalĀ Neurology.

Dietary Fat and the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
It has become clearer and clearer that diets high in saturated fat and trans fats are associated with health problems. I have written about many different research studies that link diets high in these types of fats with heart disease and stroke. Recently, however, a very well designed study shows a clear connection between Alzheimer's Disease and an increased intake of saturated and trans fat.

Metabolic syndrome and Alzheimer's
Metabolic syndrome has been defined as a combination of the following factors: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels, and poor cholesterol scores (including high triglycerides and low levels of HDL, or good cholesterol). Studies have shown that the metabolic syndrome carries with it an increased risk of type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease, and both of those conditions have been linked to higher risk of Alzheimer's.


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Mediterranean Diet and Alzheimer's Disease

A vegetarian pizza: whole grains, vegetables, quality fats in olive oil, dairy in the cheese - all part of a Mediterranean Diet

Being able to reproduce the results of a study is key to verifying any conclusions drawn from research. A number of years ago a group of scientists claimed to have mastered "Cold Fusion," but in followup experiments no one has been able to reproduce such an effect. Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas and his colleagues published a study this year on a group of elderly subjects that indicated eating a Mediterranean style diet resulted in a lower risk of Alzheimer's Disease (Ann Neurol 2006; 59: 912 - 921).

In an effort to confirm their previous results, the researchers evaluated a different population. Their first study had looked at people who didn't have any evidence of Alzheimer's at the start of the study, while this new research (Arch Neurol 2006; 63: E1 - E9) evaluated those with some degree of dementia. This was a retrospective study where dietary intake for the previous year was assessed.

The results of this research are similar to that of Scarmeas' previous study. The participants who scored in the upper third of the defined categories of a Mediterranean diet were found to have a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer's Disease. Those in the middle third had a 24% reduction in risk and even eating a little bit healthier (those in the lower third of the Mediterranean diet score) results in a 19% lower chance of having dementia.

There has been some link of Alzheimer's with vascular diseases, such as the processes that cause heart attack and stroke. In an effort to see if those links might be a factor in their results, the researchers adjusted for participants with any evidence of vascular disease or conditions associated with heart attack and stroke, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. In doing so they found there was even a greater reduction in risk - of 68% for those with scores in the upper third and 53% for the middle third.

Here are two columns I wrote earlier this year about what foods and eating patterns make up the Mediterranean Diet: "Dr. Tim Says" 5/30/06 and 06/05/06.

What this means for you:

More and more evidence shows that eating a healthier type diet such as the Mediterranean style diet can reduce the risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes. Live longer and live better by eating great food.

First posted: October 18, 2006