Nutty about Brain Health?

Last year, we posted news of an epigenetic diet rich in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, fava beans and kale that claimed to reduce cancer and degenerative brain changes.  Despite its alleged health benefits, the diet has found few followers among your average American carnivore.

And although it’s unlikely that we will ever see nutritionists advocating a hamburger, beer and potato chip diet, maybe more people will be tempted to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems by following the dietary advice of a new study published in the May 2, 2012, online issue of Neurology®.

This research showed shows that eating foods such as fish, chicken, salad dressing and nuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, is associated with lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, a protein related to Alzheimer’s.

The study followed 1,219 people 65 and older, who were free of dementia. Participants, provided information about their diet for an average of 1.2 years before their blood was tested for beta-amyloid.

The researchers looked specifically at 10 nutrients, including saturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, mono-unsaturated fatty acid, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D.

They found that the more omega-3 fatty acids a person ate, the lower their blood beta-amyloid levels. Consuming one gram of omega-3 per day – the equivalent of approximately half a fillet of salmon per week, lowered blood beta-amyloid levels by 20-30%.

“It was a continuous association.  More and more intake of omega-3s was associated with lower and lower levels of beta-amyloid in the blood.  There was no threshold effect,” author Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, from  Columbia University Medical Center

The association between omega-3 consumption and beta-amyloid was unaffected by whether or not a person took supplements – meaning if two people consumed the same amount of omega-3s, one through food and the other through supplements, the person who consumed more omega-3 rich foods typically had lower blood levels of beta-amyloid.

Other nutrients were not associated with changes in plasma beta-amyloid levels. And results stayed the same after adjusting for age, education, gender, ethnicity, amount of calories consumed and presence of the APOE gene, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The beneficial impact of omega-3 on brain health would fall in line with past studies of the nutrient.  “Previous studies have suggested that omega-3s and other aspects of diet may be related to brain function,” Scarmeas said. “Here we demonstrate one possible mechanism could be through amyloid, the main biological mechanism that relates to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Scarmeas speculated that omega-3s may be able to reduce oxidative stress on the brain and the resulting vascular damage, or even have some kind of impact on beta-amyloid in the brain.

And although there is not enough data yet to suggest omega 3’s and beta-amyloid are directly related, I, for one, will be ordering the pecan crusted chicken salad for lunch today, dressing on the plate!

Alzheimer’s Disease could be reversed by rheumatoid arthritis protein

SRxA’s Word on Health is encouraged to learn that scientists have discovered that a chemical normally produced by the body to fight arthritis, could also reverse the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Although it’s already known that people with rheumatoid arthritis, have a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, until recently, most experts assumed this was due to the anti-inflammatory drugs given to treat the disease.

Now, researchers at the University of South Florida have found that a protein, triggered by rheumatoid arthritis, can undo the ‘tangles‘ in the brain that are thought to cause Alzheimer’s.

While people with rheumatoid arthritis are subjected to swollen joints and decreased mobility, the protein produced by the disease stimulates scavenger cells in the body.

The new study, published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that the protein, GM-CSF, could both reverse the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s and lower the risk of getting the illness.  In some cases the memory impairment was completely undone after treatment.

The placebo-controlled tests in mice, showed that those treated with GM-CSF had >50% decrease in beta amyloid, the hallmark substance of Alzheimer’s disease. They also showed more microglia – specialized immune cells which remove toxic substances, in the treated animals. In contrast Alzheimer’s mice injected with the placebo salt solution continued to do badly in the tests.

We were pretty amazed that the treatment completely reversed cognitive impairment in 20 days,” said Dr Tim Boyd, the scientist who led the study.

What makes these results especially noteworthy is that the protein is not experimental.  A synthetic form of this naturally occurring protein is already commercially available under the brand name Leukine (sargramostim).  Leukine is a recombinant human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (rhu GM-CSF) manufactured by Genzyme.  While not indicated for use in Alzheimer’s, it has been approved by the FDA to reduce the incidence of severe and life-threatening infections in some chemotherapy patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Leukine is also used in multiple stem cell transplantation settings.

Our study, along with the drugs track record for safety, suggests Leukine should be tested in humans as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease” commented Prof Huntingdon Potter, a molecular medicine expert involved in the study.

While we recognize that rarely a day goes by without news of some new “breakthrough” for the estimated 35 million people worldwide who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, your Word on Health team hopes that this latest research brings the promise of a cure or treatment even closer.