An estimated 5.2 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and the toll it takes on their families may well exceed the patients' own suffering.
The results of a study from Sweden heighten suspicions that diets dominated by junky fast food meals damages brains, in addition to harming heart and overall health.
By "fast food meals" we mean ones high in sugars, starches, and bad fat but low in colorful, fiber- and antioxidant-rich plant foods.Sugary, starchy foods tend to promote generation of pro-oxidant, pro-inflammatory free radicals, as do fried and browned foods.The damage done to brain (and other) cells by free radicals and the inflammation they induce raise the risk of Alzheimer's.
Population studies link diets rich in antioxidants (and omega-3s) to reduced rates of Alzheimer's, and studies in dogs with Alzheimer's-like disease show clear improvements after increasing their intake of dietary antioxidants.
There's a genetic component to Alzheimer's though it's far from the whole story.
About one in five Americans possesses a gene that raises their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease ... which is by far the most common form of dementia.The risky gene, called apoE4, is a variant of the gene that governs the production of a cholesterol-transport protein called apolipoprotein E.People who carry the apoE4 gene are more likely to develop the brain abnormalities characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, and to later show symptoms of Alzheimer's.
But once again, genes "load the gun" but environment pulls the trigger.
A doctoral student at Stockholm's famed Karolinska Institute tested the effects of fast-food-like diets in mice genetically at risk for Alzheimer's- these mice had been specifically bred to carry the risky apoE4 variant of the apolipoprotein E gene.Researcher Susanne Akterin fed the Alzheimer's-prone mice a simulated fast-food diet for nine months.The mice developed brain abnormalities like those seen in Alzheimer's patients.
The moral of the story: You can't do much about your genes, but you can sure increase the odds of keeping your brain healthy by staying away from fast food and making sure you stock up on antioxidants.