We are what we eat, we’re told. But, what happens if what we eat is bad for us? Could the Western Diet be leading us on a dark and lonely path to Alzheimer’s Disease? According to new research, it is for a significant minority.
Tracking The Western Diet
A new study by the Taylor & Francis Group has looked at diet and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in ten countries – Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, India, Mongolia, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, and the United States. This was then compared to what the citizens of these countries ate 5, 10 and 15 years previously. The findings are not good news for fans of the Western Diet.
The average American tends to eat more meat and saturated fats than people in the other countries studied. This same average American has a 4% chance of suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease in their future. Meat and other animal products (like eggs) raise your risk.
The biggest correlation between Alzheimer’s prevalence in the ten countries was with dietary patterns five years earlier. So you can’t put off eating healthily. If you’re middle-aged you really should look into your diet right now.
The good news is that vegetable oil does not seem to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. At least if you just use in cooking. If you like to drink it by the pint then all bets are off…
If you are a milk drinker then rejoice! Milk seems to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s. But it’s pretty much the only animal product that does.
“[R]educing meat consumption could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as of several cancers, diabetes mellitus type 2, stroke, and, likely, chronic kidney disease.” – study author, William B. Grant
How This Sits With Other Research?
This is not exactly ground-breaking news. Previous research identified meat and non-dairy animal products as risk factors for Alzheimer’s. It seems that your bacon and egg can lead to trace minerals building up in your brain. This in turn causes oxidative stress. Sufferers of the disease have higher than normal levels of aluminum, copper, iron, and mercury. A poor diet is a strong candidate for putting those minerals there.
Meat and saturated fat consumption is also a risk factor for insulin resistance, which in turn raises your risk of Alzheimer’s disease (as well as diabetes).
Recently, over 300 studies on diet that spanned over sixty years were reviewed. The review reported that red meat increases the risk of all age-related chronic diseases. On balance dairy products don’t seem to have an impact either way, so you can enjoy a bit of cheese and a glass of milk without the guilt! Diets that are largely plant-based protect against disease as we age. Grains seem to protect more than vegetables and fruits. And, in turn, whole grains are best.
So, What Should We Eat?
Sometimes dietary studies can give confusing or even contradictory results. And when you look at multiple chronic illnesses it tends to get more confusing!
However, the Taylor & Francis study gives some helpful pointers:
“Choose vegetables, whole fruits, and other low-calorie foods instead of calorie-dense foods.
Limit consumption of processed meats and red meats.
Prepare meat, poultry, and fish by baking, broiling, or poaching rather than by frying or charbroiling.
Eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
Choose whole grains instead of refined grains.
Diets high in grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish are associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, but these factors cannot counter the effects of meat, eggs, and high-fat dairy.”
Compared to the western diet, the traditional Mediterranean diet halves the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. But the very low-meat diets of India, Japan and Nigeria halve the risks again. So presumable the average Nigerian has a 1% chance of developing Alzheimer’s compared to the Westerner’s 4% risk.
That’s pretty sobering. Maybe it’s time to swap the full Irish breakfast for some whole-grain cereal with milk, or even a kipper. Our brains might just thank us in the future! Exercise is great too!
How easy would following this advice be for you? Let me know in the comments!