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Posted Apr 16 2010 2:01pm

Diet can’t totally eliminate the risk of dementia, but watching what we eat may lower it.

Given its importance as a potentially modifiable factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, there has been an increasing emphasis on research into the links between diet & the disease. Some of the current information on the impact of specific foods is inconsistent, & this is thought – in part – to be due to the variety of foods people eat, & the complex interactions between them.  A group of researchers from Columbia University has carried out a new study with this in mind, looking at dietary patterns & food combinations.

The study collected & analysed dietary information from 2148 residents of New York over the age of sixty five who did not have dementia. Each participant underwent a comprehensive clinical and neuropsychological assessment approximately every eighteen months for an average of four years. Several dietary patterns were identified with varying levels of seven nutrients based on previous knowledge regarding their potential link to Alzheimer’s disease: saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin B12 and folate. During the follow up period two hundred & fifty three of the participants developed Alzheimer’s disease.

When the results of the study were analysed, one dietary pattern emerged as being significantly related with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This was characterized by higher intakes of salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables (brassicas), fruits, and dark and green leafy vegetables and a lower intake of high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat, and butter.

The authors of the research say that the seven selected  nutrients reflected multiple pathways in the development of Alzheimer’s disease - ‘For example, vitamin B12 and folate are homocysteine-related vitamins that may have an impact on Alzheimer’s disease via their ability of reducing circulating homocysteine levels, vitamin E might prevent Alzheimer’s via its strong antioxidant effect, and fatty acids may be related to dementia and cognitive function through atherosclerosis, thrombosis, or inflammation via an effect on brain development and membrane functioning or via accumulation of beta-amyloid.

Throughout the world there are approximately thirty five million people suffering from Alzheimer’s & other dementias, a figure which it is predicted will increase significantly. The need to discover more about this devastating condition is vital. The authors of the study conclude in a similar vein when they say of their study – ‘Our findings provide support for further exploration of food combination based dietary behaviour for the prevention of this important public health problem.’

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