- Compounds found in a typical Western diet known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs), may accelerate the progression Alzheimer’s disease, by enhancing the formation of brain plaques and memory problems.
- AGEs are naturally found in our bodies but are also ingested through our diet, particularly from animal products prepared at high heat and pasteurized dairy products which, when consumed over a lifetime, can lead to chronic inflammation associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- In a study, individuals with higher blood levels of specific AGEs were noted to have a noticeable decrease in mental alertness over nine months, indicating a potential impact of these compounds on the human brain.
- While more research is needed to ascertain this impact, dietary changes, such as reducing foods high in AGEs and increasing plant-based foods consumption, can be made as a healthier lifestyle choice.
- Methods like poaching, brazing, and steaming that use “less heat and more water” during food preparation can lessen AGEs production, contributing to healthier living regardless of their direct effect on Alzheimer’s risk.
No one is utterly immune to the swift and relentless progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but recent scientific discoveries involving laboratory mice indicate that some dietary habits may accelerate its advancement. The implications of these findings could hold significant meaning for our ever-modernizing society.
‘Western’ Diet and Alzheimer’s: What’s the Connection?
Researchers have identified that compounds in the typical Western diet might enhance the formation of Alzheimer’s-linked brain deposits and memory problems in mice. These compounds, known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs), were added to the lifelong diets of laboratory mice. The result was that the mice developed higher amounts of beta-amyloid in their brains.
Beta-amyloid is the protein responsible for the formation of brain plaques evident in persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, mice that fed on these compounds tended to develop more issues with memory and movement as they aged, as compared to the mice that dined on food that produced low levels of these chemicals.
What Are Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs)?
AGEs are naturally found in small amounts in the human body, explains Dr. Helen Vlassara from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. However, we also consume the compounds through our diet, especially from animal products prepared at high heat, such as fried, grilled, or broiled meats, and dairy products that are sterilized or pasteurized.
Dr. Vlassara warns that we ingest these toxins in large quantities over a lifetime. Accumulating AGEs can lead to chronic inflammation in the body, which is implicated in many disease processes, including Alzheimer’s.
An Unhealthy Diet for the Brain?
The recent study findings point to a high AGE diet as unhealthy for the brain – at least for mice. However, what about its implications for humans?
To offer some insight, Vlassara and her team followed 93 adults aged 60 and older. These adults provided blood samples and filled out a standard questionnaire used to screen for dementia. The team found that individuals with elevated blood levels of a specific AGE were more likely to have a notable dip in mental alertness over nine months.
While these results are undoubtedly intriguing, more research is needed to ascertain the impact of these compounds on the human brain.
Should We Alter Our Diet?
Dr. Vlassara suggests that people don’t have to wait for more research to consider making dietary changes. Cutting down on foods high in AGEs and eating more plant-based foods is generally viewed as a healthier choice.
“You don’t have to become a vegetarian,” she said. “But pay attention to what you eat and how you prepare it.”
To lessen the production of AGEs during cooking, Vlassara recommends using “less heat and more water” through methods such as poaching, brazing, and steaming.
While it is unclear whether altering cooking methods will reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, this is an easy step towards a healthier lifestyle that individuals can adopt independently.
The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and managing heart disease risk factors is generally a good practice, as they could potentially decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s.