8 months ago

Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease

The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is constantly increasing due to the ageing population. In France, 1.2 million people are estimated to be affected by this disease, with women being majoritarily affected, representing 60% of cases, and men representing 40% of cases. It is also estimated that only half of the affected population has been detected. 

Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease, represented as a cognitive disorder and characterised by memory problems, language problems, visual spatial difficulties, mood changes, disorientation …etc.  

How does Alzheimer’s start?

Alzheimer’s is a very complex disease and a complete explanation of the illness is yet to be found. We do know, however that, at the molecular level, the disease is characterised by the buildup of amyloid plaques between the neurons, consisting of amyloid β proteins, and by the presence of intracellular neurofibrillary tangles in the neuron, caused by the Tau protein. The buildup of these plaques lead to neuronal dys,and eventually neuron death.

This is a very slow process that can take several years, and as of our understanding today, it is influenced by the environment, age and genetics. 

What are the risk factors for patients with Alzheimer’s?

Age is one of the main risk factors for this disease. 15% of people over the age of 80 have Alzheimer’s. Environment also plays a very important role. A sedentary lifestyle as well as cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, stress, being overweight and many others, have been shown to promote the appearance of the disease.

On the other hand,  some behaviours can prevent and lessen the risk of apparition of Alzheimer’s. For instance, having a stimulating job and being well educated have shown a positive effect on delaying the disease. Having an active social life and partaking in physical activities has also been shown to stimulate lost neurons. Genetics plays a small part in Alzheimer’s (1%), and the disease is linked to a mutated gene. If one parent is affected by Alzheimer’s, the risk is multiplied by 1.5, and if both are affected, the risk is multiplied by 2. 

Spotting the early signs of Alzheimers. 

Currently, there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, early detection can make living with the disease a lot less stressful for the individual, as they can anticipate and take time to understand what will happen to them, and adapt their lives accordingly. The 1st instance of diagnosis is based upon the visible and noticeable expression of symptoms, as well as interviews with family members. These symptoms could be memory loss, behavioural and/or personality changes, language disorders, loss of orientation, impared judgement …etc. 

Once the first symptoms are recognised and established, various examinations are carried out by medical professionals : biological examinations (blood tests), neuropsychological tests, MRI’s. All of these and more are used to confirm the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. MRI’s allow an observation of the changes in the anatomical and al structure of the brain. In the case of Alzhimer’s we observe what is known as cortical atrophy. 

Nutrition in Alzheimer patients. 

It is very important for Alzheimer patients to take care of their nutrition, as weight loss is a very common characteristic of the disease. Amnesia (can lead to forgetting meals), aphasia (language disorders), apraxia (difficulty in coordinating gestures), agnosia (difficulty in naming objects), and disorientation are all symptoms that can make it very difficult for patients to keep track of their nutrition. More difficulties are encountered due to disturbances in one’s biological organism, which can lead to a change in taste and smell, as well as decreased intake, an increase in needs and specific drug effects. All of these factors can lead to weight loss in these individuals.

Adapting the environment of Alzheimer’s patients and organising their meals is therefore an essential practice to avoid weight loss. We recommend pleasant foods and adaptable textures. The goal is to promote the patients wellbeing. This service must be provided at regular intervals, dish by dish, taking temperature into account and removing distractions from the environment. 

Nutrition and Alzheimer’s prevention. 

Numerous studies, such as one published by Epidemiology called “Mediterranean diet, cognitive , and dementia: a systematic review” , have proven the effectiveness of a mediterranean diet in limiting the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Mediterranean diets are mainly based on fresh seasonal produce, no processed/industrial products, and little red meat. This leads to a diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, with little saturated fatty acids, which can help lower cholesterol levels. 

Olive oil is also recommended to help prevent the development of Alzheimers, as its richness in omega 9 and monounsaturated fatty acids can help decrease levels of bad cholesterol present in the patients system. 

Incorporating fish into your diet is essential for brain health, as it contains omega 3 and omega 6, as well as vitamin B12 (cobalamin). B12 is essential for psychological balance and proper ing of the nervous and immune system. Foods richest in this vitamin include meat, milk, eggs, cheese, offal and of course, fish. 

Oils, seeds and cereals are also highly recommended to help prevent Alzheimer’s, as they are rich in omega 3, fibre and antioxidants, and are good for your heart and for your brain!

Lorine TRAMEAU
Nutritional Engineer at Nutrimis