Alzheimer’s disease that is characterized by impaired cognitive functioning and memory decline results from the presence of protein plaques (usually amyloid-β) in the brain. The protein occurs naturally in the body, but when it forms plaques around the nerve cells, it can upset their functioning. In many cases of Alzheimer’s disease, high deposits of the protein plaque deposits result in an autoimmune reaction wherein the body would start to discard these non-functioning brain cells. Furthermore, it has already been established that the amyloid-β protein deposits are harmful to the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease that sets in later in life could be prevented by consuming a high protein diet. By eating enough foods that are high in protein such as chicken, fish, tuna, lentils, and nuts, may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, new research has suggested.
A study published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, scientists from Edith Cowan University School of Medical and Health Sciences in Australia, observed the diets of 541 healthy older people who had not experienced any noticeable memory decline. The researchers led by Binosha Fernando divided the volunteers into three groups according to their dietary protein intake (highest, average, and lowest). They tested the blood samples of the volunteers in each group using blood biomarkers and measured the level of amyloid-β in their brains.
The study confirmed that there is an inverse relationship between the amyloid-β deposits and the protein intake. It shows that more protein intake lowers the deposits of amyloid-β in the brain, thereby, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This study is the first to confirm a relationship between protein consumption and amyloid beta proteins. However, it is not clear why this happens. There’s need for more research to understand what is in the relationship.
The lead study researcher Binosha Fernando, a postdoctoral research fellow at the above-mentioned University, said in a statement “The research clearly shows that the more the protein intake the lower the chances someone has of having a high amyloid-β deposits on the brain, which corresponds to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the future.”
Fernando explained that she is planning to further investigate the effect of protein on Alzheimer’s risk, and the impending research will investigate how factors such as gender and genetics play a role in this relationship.
Protein, Blood Pressure, and Alzheimer’s disease
An earlier study published in the American Journal of Hypertension revealed that high intake of both animal and plant protein can help control blood pressure levels. A protein-rich diet notably lowers the risk of developing high blood pressure, and protein consumption could prevent high blood pressure in the long-term as well.
Referring to the previous study, Fernando explained that the possible link between protein intake and Alzheimer’s disease may be derived from protein affecting blood pressure levels. High blood pressure negatively affects brain health and has been considered as one of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, if eating more protein can prevent high blood pressure, it could possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Protein is found in animal products like beef, pork, lamb, eggs, fish, and poultry, as well as in plant-based foods such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, etc.
Amount of protein per 100g in common foods:
- Chicken: 30g
- Beef (steak): 26g
- Tuna (Bluefin): 30g
- Lentils: 10g
- Pinto beans: 20g
- Peanuts: 26g
- Milk: 3.4g
- Cheese (cheddar): 25g
*Source: US Department of Agriculture
Dr. Fernando also said that “To get the protective effect that we have demonstrated, you need to be eating about 120g of protein per day, which is not too hard.”
“For example, if you had a mixed bean and tuna salad for lunch, 100g of chicken and salad for dinner and snacked on a handful of peanuts during the day, you would be getting very close to enough protein to lower your chances of having a high amyloid-beta burden in your brain.”
In addition, there are many other health benefits of taking more protein to your diet, beyond the protection against Alzheimer’s. For example, a 2006 study published in Cell Metabolism, a scholarly publication on health and diseases, reveals that protein could help restrain hunger and regulate body weight. Also, another study from that same year shows that protein helped the body recover faster after injury.
Foods to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease most of the time begins with what appears to be simple forgetfulness, but it causes much more damage over time, destroying speech, comprehension, coordination and causing restlessness and dramatic mood swings. Eating the right diet may hinder the onset of the disease or lower your risk by as much as 40 percent. The following foods have been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Recent evidence suggests omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. Eating fatty fish such as salmon, herring, or white tuna frequently, say once per week may slow cognitive decline by 10%.
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially the type known as DHA found in a fatty fish show to be the key since high levels of DHA is required for normal brain development, which makes sense. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids of all type including those found in walnuts, olive oil and flaxseed prevent inflammation, which may contribute to protein build-up in the brain.
Foods Rich in Vitamins C and E
The by-product of all the chemical reactions in our brain is free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage cells, possibly accelerating mental decline. Foods that contain antioxidants neutralize those free radicals, cleaning the “pollution” in your brain.
Research on the dietary habits of large groups of people has found that eating foods which are rich in vitamin C (like red peppers, currants, broccoli, and strawberries) and vitamin E (like olive oil and almonds) may lessen the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Foods and Beverages High in Flavonoids
A study found that people who drank fruit and vegetable juices such as orange, apple, or tomato (these are foods that are rich in flavonoids) three times a week did not develop Alzheimer’s disease. Another animal report revealed that pomegranate juice reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in animals such as rats.
A protein-rich diet notably lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by reducing amyloid-β protein deposits in brain. For over all health of your brain and body, include foods rich in flavonoids, choline, vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein in your diet.