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Nutrition, Alzheimer’s, and the Healthy Brain

by Dr. Lynne Shinto

There is growing evidence that brain health and nutrition are directly related.. The brain is rich in blood vessels; it contains 400 miles of them, and it consumes 20% of the body’s total oxygen and 10% of its total glucose (sugar). Vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, smoking, cardiovascular disease, being overweight, and physical inactivity can increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). If you have three or more of these risk factors you have a 3.5 times greater possibility of developing AD than someone who has none of these. Maintaining a healthy diet can play an important role in improving your cardiovascular health, reducing risk and increasing brain health. But what should we eat and why?

There are studies that show that healthy diets, like the Mediterranean diet, which are high in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seafood tend to be heart-healthy by decreasing blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. In contrast, diets that are high in trans-fats or hydrogenated oils, which are found in many processed foods and baked goods, should be avoided in your diet because they do not promote cardiovascular and brain health. Adhering to healthy eating, such as with the Mediterranean diet, may help decrease your risk of AD because it contains fatty acids, which are good for the brain, and negates many of the vascular risk factors of AD. Additionally, a healthy diet contains many of the vitamins and minerals necessary for brain health, including vitamins B, C, E, and D. But should healthy brain nutrition include nutritional supplements?

Nutritional supplements, unlike drugs, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The effectiveness of any one supplement to prevent AD has not been firmly proven by research studies. In fact, most are still being researched. Because of the promise of its contribution to cardiovascular health, omega-3 fatty acid supplements are currently being explored in a study at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

Because your brain contains a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish and seafood, researchers are particularly interested in their mechanism and potential role in brain health. With aging, these fatty acids may decrease, so keeping healthy levels of them in your brain may prevent or delay cognitive decline and AD. Researchers at OHSU are conducting a unique clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health that is evaluating omega-3 fatty acids for the vascular component of cognitive decline in people 75 years and older who do not have AD or dementia, but are at risk because of their age and low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The study is the first of its kind that will evaluate whether enriching the diet with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can maintain brain wellness and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Read more about the Mediterranean diet and other nutritional supplements in the links below.

Nutritional Supplements (Alzheimer’s Association)

Seven Steps to Cardiovascular and Brain Health (American Heart Association)

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