One day your doctor might give you this prescription to prevent Alzheimer's: Eat less red meat and sugar; eat more fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil.
Researchers with the University of Washington and Veterans Affairs Puget Sound medical center decided to see if a change in diet could affect the risk for Alzheimer's or benefit those already suffering some mild but early symptoms of the disease.
What they found was that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and olive oil can improve some memory skills in both healthy older adults, as well as those already experiencing cognitive difficulty.
More importantly, eating this kind of diet can help healthy adults reduce their risk of developing dementia, says study researcher Suzanne Craft with the Memory Wellness Program at the VA.
Researchers found that after four weeks on the low-fat diet, subjects had fewer toxic proteins and evidence of inflammation in their spinal fluid, both considered to be bio-markers for Alzheimer's, Craft said.
"I like to think of this kind of diet as promoting healthy brain aging, as well as reducing the risk of Alzheimer's," she said.
The study appeared in the June issue of Archives of Neurology.
The Washington state researchers wrote that they decided to take a "whole-diet" approach, rather than focus on a single dietary component, such as omega-3 fish oil. They also chose to test the subjects' spinal fluid for bio-markers because of the importance of the central nervous system to brain health.
The 49 subjects, all older than 60, included 20 healthy adults with no signs of memory decline, and 29 who were at high-risk for Alzheimer's, having already been diagnosed with some cognitive impairment.
They were randomly selected to either follow a four-week low-saturated fat, high-fiber plan similar to a Mediterranean diet, or a four-week high-saturated fat diet that included foods like red meat, butter, french fries and soda.
Both groups ate the same amount of protein and the diets were balanced so subjects did not lose or gain or weight.
"It was the most intricate study I've ever done," noted Craft. "We supplied every piece of food people ate for an entire month."
The researchers acknowledged that the study was a small one, and that they were limited in the amount of time that subjects could be on the high-fat diet for safety considerations.
However, for those who want to protect their brain health, it seems pretty clear from these preliminary results that eating a healthy diet is a powerful first step.
Photo credit: Difei Li via flickr.com