Subjects with a high intake (about 400 grams per day) of fruits and vegetables had higher antioxidant levels, lower indicators of free radical-induced damage, and better cognitive performance.
The findings were independent of age, gender, body mass index, and level of education. Further studies are planned that will include larger subject cohorts, patients with Alzheimer's disease, and patients with mild cognitive impairment.
This latest study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease confirms previous studies on vegetable intake and dementia. Here, healthy subjects between the ages of 45 and 102 underwent cognitive testing while their blood was checked for antioxidant micronutrients and biomarkers of oxidative stress. Their daily fruit and vegetable intake was also assessed.
The subjects in the high fruit and veggie intake group scored significantly higher on the cognitive tests, and they also had higher antioxidant levels and lower biomarkers for oxidative stress than those in the low intake group.
Cognitive test scores were positively correlated with blood levels of α-tocopherol and lycopene, and negatively correlated with F2α isoprostanes (potent vasoconstrictors) and protein carbonyls – a byproduct of oxidation that causes cell damage.
The results were independent of age, gender, body mass index, education, total cholesterol, LDL- and HDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and albumin.
The researchers concluded that “modification of nutritional habits aimed at increasing intake of fruits and vegetables should be encouraged to lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in later life.”
The Key to Brain Health
I’m pleased that they focused their recommendation on fruits and vegetables as opposed to the antioxidants themselves, as previous studies have shown that while antioxidants from food have a beneficial impact on your brain and can prevent cognitive decline, supplements do not appear to offer the same benefits.
It seems your brain is too smart to settle for second best, and the key for brain health is FOOD based, and can likely not be duplicated by supplements alone.
For example, a a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2002, found that diets rich in vitamin E – another antioxidant -- may delay the onset of memory-robbing Alzheimer's disease.
During normal cell processes, compounds called free radicals are released, which can be harmful to your body tissues and lead to so-called oxidative damage or stress. Experts have linked oxidative stress to many illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Since antioxidants can neutralize free radicals, quite a bit of research has focused on these nutrients and it’s believed they can help delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. However, they keep finding that this benefit only becomes apparent when the nutrients are consumed in food.
In the JAMA study, those with the highest intake of vitamin E from food appeared to be the least likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Even smokers who consumed the most antioxidant nutrients appeared to cut their Alzheimer's risk.
Is Alzheimer’s a Form of Diabetes?
Interestingly, in more recent years Alzheimer’s disease is increasingly being referred to as a third form of diabetes.
Along with your pancreas, your brain also produces insulin. Insulin and insulin receptors in your brain are crucial for memory and learning, and it’s known that these components are lower in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
In your brain, insulin binds to an insulin receptor at a synapse, which triggers a mechanism that allows nerve cells to survive, and memories to form. A recent study in the journal Neurology discovered that a toxic protein in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients -- called ADDL -- removes insulin receptors from nerve cells, and renders those neurons insulin resistant.
It has been suggested that ADDLs accumulate at the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease and thereby block memory function. There is even a test that measures ADDL in your spinal fluid that claims to detect Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages.
People with diabetes also have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin D May Also Play a Role
Another factor that can further strengthen the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s is a form of diabetes is that vitamin D, just like insulin, also appears to play a role in both diseases.
It has already been established that type 1 diabetes can be prevented with sufficient vitamin D levels.
For example, in one study, babies who received at least 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily were nearly 80 percent less likely to develop type 1 diabetes over the next three decades compared with infants who had lower intakes of the vitamin.
Type 1 diabetes is considered to be an autoimmune disease, and vitamin D has been shown to be an important ingredient to enable the optimal function of your immune system and in preventing too aggressive attacks against your body's own tissues.
In the same issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease is the study showing the benefits of vegetables on cognitive performance, there’s also a report discussing the potential for vitamin D to protect against dementia.
Observational studies have found that low vitamin D levels are associated with increased risk for:
Type 1 diabetes
All of these conditions are either considered risk factors for dementia or have preceded incidence of dementia, so your vitamin D levels may indeed be one of the underlying causes of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well.
Laboratory studies also show that vitamin D offers neuroprotection, and that it plays a role in reducing inflammation in your body, which is an important aspect of protecting yourself against Alzheimer’s disease.
Guidelines to Prevent Both Alzheimer’s and Diabetes at the Same Time
Three of the most important strategies to prevent Alzheimer’s disease are actually identical to those recommended to prevent diabetes.
This may seem odd at first glance, but is easily understood when you grasp the fact that the single most important factor that can help prevent nearly every chronic disease known to man is to normalize your insulin and leptin levels.
These three steps form the foundation for normalizing your insulin and leptin levels:
Exercise -- Exercise protects your brain just as it protects the rest of your body from diabetes. According to one study, the odds of developing Alzheimer's were nearly quadrupled in people who were less active during their leisure time, between the ages of 20 and 60, compared with their peers.
Similar to a healthy diet, regular physical activity is one of those things that can significantly improve many aspects of your physical and emotional health. For the elderly, simple activities such as walking and light weight training would likely provide benefits. For those who are younger, more strenuous exercise may heighten the benefits.
Omega 3 fats -- A diet rich in omega-3 fats has been found to ward off both Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.
Keep in mind that most fish today are grossly contaminated, so despite the fact that they are a major source of healthy omega-3’s I do not recommend eating much fish these days, as the health hazards far outweigh the benefits. Your best alternative is to take an animal-based omega-3 supplement, such as krill oil.
Additional Strategies to Keep Your Mind Sharp
By 2050, it’s estimated that 1 out of 8 people will have Alzheimer’s disease…
This is NOT a natural state of affairs, as your brain is capable of remaining fully functional no matter how old you get. That is, as long as you take care of it.
So in addition to the three important tips above, here are a few more strategies to help you keep your mind sharp well into old age:
Avoid and remove mercury from your body. Dental amalgam fillings are one of the major sources of mercury, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to a nutritious diet, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist who will know how to remove your amalgams in a safe manner that will not harm your health in the process.
Avoid aluminum, such as in antiperspirants, cookware, etc.
Avoid flu vaccinations as they contain both mercury and aluminum!
Eat wild blueberries, which have high anthocyanin and antioxidant content that are known to guard against Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.
Challenge your mind daily. Mental stimulation, such as traveling, learning to play an instrument or doing crossword puzzles, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.