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Alzheimer’s Disease: Up to half of cases potentially preventable


November was proclaimed National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, in recognition of the five million Americans stricken with the devastating terminal illness, now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. A new analysis suggests that up to half of these millions of cases may have been preventable through lifestyle changes.

We’ve known for almost 20 years that compared to long-time vegetarians, those eating meat (including poultry and fish) appear to have three times the risk of developing dementia. Since studies show “even moderately elevated cholesterol increased dementia risk,” the cognitive impairment more often seen in those eating meat may be due to atherosclerotic plaque building in the brain’s blood vessels, which can cause micro-infarctions or “ministrokes” that can kill off little parts of the brain the way clogged coronary arteries can kill off parts of the heart during a heart attack. A new autopsy study found that those with cholesterol levels over 226 had up to 25 times the odds of having Alzheimer’s pathology (neuritic plaques) in their brains compared to those with cholesterol under 226.

New evidence suggests that this may be only part of the puzzle. Maybe it’s not just what vegetarians don’t eat, but what they do; the phytonutrients found in plant-based diets have been shown to have a wide range of beneficial effects.

Previous video-of-the-day Amyloid and Apple Juice featured new research suggesting there are components in apples and ginger root that may protect human nerve cells (in a test-tube at least) from the neurotoxic Alzheimer’s plaque protein amyloid Beta. It’s one thing to show benefits in a petri dish, though; it’s quite another to show benefit in a human population. That came in another video-of-the-day The Nutrition Facts Missing from the Label, in which I profile the class of phytonutrients thought to be responsible for cutting Alzheimer’s risk more than 75%. Another video-of-the-day, Best Fruit Juice, ranked ten common fruit juices for these phenolic phytonutrients (with surprising results!) and this video: Constructing a Cognitive Portfolio suggests that different fruits and vegetables support different cognitive domains of the brain, so both quantity and variety of plant foods may be important for the prevention of dementia.

What if you or a loved one already has Alzheimer’s? Alzheimer’s and Apple Juice features a pilot study suggesting apple juice can affect the cognitive performance, day-to-day functioning, mood, and behavior of Alzheimer’s patients. In Is Pomegranate Juice That Wonderful? I show how food companies (such as POM Wonderful) invoke the First Amendment to defend false and unsubstantiated health claims, and I'll share Pink Juice with Green Foam, a recipe for DIY whole food cranberry cocktail with 25 times fewer calories and at least 8 times the phytonutrient content of the retail corn syrup concoction.

For my previous videos on cognition see:

This article was previously published on the Nutriton Facts website


Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues.  A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Greger is licensed as a general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition. Currently he serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States. Dr. Greger is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine and runs the Nutriton Facts website.

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