A diet rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol could lead to similar changes in substances in the brain that are also seen in the development of Alzheimer’s, according to a new study. Mice that were fed for nine months on the diet, which represents the nutritional content of most fast food, developed abnormalities in the brain similar to those observed in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, according to the study, which was published in a doctoral thesis from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute.
The research, titled “From Cholesterol to Oxidative Stress in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Wide Perspective on a Multifactorial Disease,” offers some indication of the role that diet could play in prevention of the disease, which currently affects an estimated 5.2 million Americans. The Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago says African-Americans may be at especially high risk for the disease.
“Several studies have been published during the last years linking diet with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and especially too much cholesterol have been found to be particularly bad. This is probably because the brain is an organ that is especially rich in cholesterol and where cholesterol has many functions, and therefore is tightly regulated,” researcher Susanne Akterin, a postgraduate student in the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society at Karolinska Institute Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, told FoodNavigator-USA.com. “When you eat too much cholesterol this regulation will be disturbed, leading to many negative effects. All kinds of food that contain a lot of fat, sugar and cholesterol are likely to have the same bad consequences. Considering the lack of effective medication for this dreadful disease, to prevent the disease from developing in the first place would be desirable.”
Akterin said the most common risk factor in Alzheimer’s disease is a variant of a certain gene that governs the production of apolipoprotein E, which transport cholesterol. The gene variant is called ApoE4 and is found in 15 – 20 percent of the population. The research team studied mice that had been genetically modified to mimic the effects of ApoE4 in humans for her doctoral thesis. They noted an increase in phosphate groups attached to tau, a substance that forms the neurofibrillary tangles observed in Alzheimer’s patients, which prevents the cells from functioning normally and eventually leads to their death. They also saw indications that cholesterol in food reduced levels of another brain substance, Arc, a protein involved in memory storage.
“We now suspect that a high intake of fat and cholesterol in combination with genetic factors, such as ApoE4, can adversely affect several brain substances, which can be a contributory factor in the development of Alzheimer’s,” Akterin said. “All in all, the results give some indication of how Alzheimer’s can be prevented, but more research in this field needs to be done before proper advice can be passed on to the general public.”
Previous research has shown that a phenomenon known as oxidative stress in the brain and a relatively low intake of dietary antioxidants can also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.