Most of us have a connection with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, whether it’s a family member, friend, or other acquaintance. Regardless of the circumstance, Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that affects six million Americans and 33 million people globally.
While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, our understanding of the disease process continues to grow. For instance, there’s an intricate relationship between nutrition and brain health. Nutrient deficiencies can play a significant role in the risk and progression of Alzheimer’s.
In fact, emerging research indicates that there are at least five nutrients that are often lower in the brains of those experiencing it. Understanding these nutritional factors is critical in the quest to reduce our global burden of Alzheimer’s and improve the quality of life for those facing it.
Research Found These 5 Nutrients Are Often Depleted in Those With Alzheimer’s
A new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has found a nutritional commonality among individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s that may help us better prevent and manage the disease.
The study was conducted by researchers from Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in conjunction with eye health supplement company ZeaVision.
In the study, the researchers examined the brains of 31 donors of an average age of 75 years. They compared a variety of micronutrients present in the brains of those who died with Alzheimer’s against those who didn’t.
Those with Alzheimer’s had around half the amount of five nutrients as the healthier brains:
- Lycopene, which helps protect your cells from damage
- Retinol, a form of vitamin A which helps promote night vision, healthy skin, and immune function
- Vitamin E, which supports immune function and helps prevent blood clots
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which protect the tissues in your eyes from the sun
All of these are micronutrients, which means they are only required in small amounts in the body to do their job supporting your health (compared to the macronutrients, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, which are needed in larger amounts).
Something else they all have in common is that they’re antioxidants. These are predominantly plant-derived compounds that help protect your cells from oxidative stress and damage that otherwise promotes disease. They also help reduce harmful levels of inflammation.
Research continues to be done on the association between Alzheimer’s disease and nutrition. It’s thought that the buildup of specific proteins (called tau tangles and amyloid plaque) is behind Alzheimer’s, which occurs when the brain can no longer remove these wastes properly. While there are many factors involved in how the disease progresses, inflammation, oxidative damage, and mitochondrial dysfunction are most likely.
As such, science suggests there’s a significant inflammatory component and that antioxidants can play a key role in inhibiting certain aspects of its progression. A lack of antioxidants in the body means the brain isn’t nearly as well protected.
30 Ways To Add More Brain-Supporting Nutrients to Your Diet
Practicing good nutrition is a critical habit for the long-term health of your brain. Ensuring a regular supply of antioxidants is key for managing inflammation and oxidative stress.
So you might be wondering, how can I make sure I’m getting enough? Below are 30 foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help support brain health (and overall wellness). Aim to incorporate these types of foods into your diet pattern on a regular basis:
- Fatty fish
- Blood oranges
- Sweet potatoes
- Bell peppers
- Chia seeds
Overall, the best way to ensure that your brain is getting the nutrition it needs is to eat a diet that consists of a wide variety of healthy foods. The more natural color, the better.
Prioritize minimally processed plant foods, including colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Minimize ultra-processed convenience foods that are high in added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, which make up the majority of the standard Western diet pattern.
To this point, research supports a diet pattern based on a combination of the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean Diet, particularly one called the MIND Diet (which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).
The MIND Diet emphasizes plant foods like leafy greens, berries, whole grains, beans, olive oil, and nuts, but also allows for fatty fish and poultry 1-2 times per week should you choose to consume them. Studies have found that this way of eating is likely to help promote cognitive resilience among the elderly.
Alternatively, the Western diet pattern (think sugary soda, ultra-processed red meats, and fast food items) is considered to be a likely trigger for the progression of Alzheimer’s. Hence, this is why you don’t see any of these types of foods on the list above.
Give Your Brain Health a Boost
Most of us have at least a few opportunities each day to either promote or negate the health of our brains through our food choices. Whether you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or not, prioritizing your nutrition is essential for your long-term health.
Start by reflecting on your typical dietary choices and identifying where improvements could be made. Where can you add more minimally processed plant foods, like fruits and veggies, into your routine? It’s never too late to boost your intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from healthy foods and help protect your brain. It may just help you prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.