People With Alzheimer’s Disease Deficient in These 5 Nutrients
It’s a well-known fact that the brain needs essential vitamins and minerals to stay sharp during the aging process. For this reason, eating a variety of nutritious foods plays a role in staying physically healthy and preventing brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
New research by a team at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine showed that levels of five micronutrients are “strikingly lower” in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s compared to people who do not have the disease.
The investigators analyzed samples of brains from 31 donors, most of whom died with Alzheimer’s disease. The average age of the donors was 75. According to the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Researchers, the brains of donors who had Alzheimer’s disease had around half the level of the five micronutrients compared with the brains of donors who did not have Alzheimer’s.
The micronutrients—vitamins and minerals needed by the body in very small amounts—identified by researchers were the following:
1. Vitamin E
As an antioxidant, Vitamin E fights free radicals and helps the immune system fight infections. The nutrient also is known to reduce the risk of blood clots forming in the arteries of the heart, which can cause a heart attack. Vitamin E is naturally found in green leafy vegetables, plant-based oils like sunflower oil and soybean oil, nuts, seeds, pumpkins, red bell peppers, and asparagus. It is also found in fruits, such as mangoes and avocados.
Lycopene is a carotenoid, which are nutrient-rich, natural pigments that gives vegetables and fruits their red, yellow, orange, and pink colors. Lycopene helps protect cells from damage caused by various diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Retinol is a form of vitamin A, a popular ingredient used in skincare products due to its anti-aging effects. Retinol plays a role in supporting the immune system and has been shown to help improve night vision. The body can convert beta-carotene into retinol. Good sources of beta-carotene are yellow, orange, and green leafy vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, and spinach, and fruits, such as mangos, papaya, and apricots.
Lutein is a carotenoid that is known as the “eye vitamin.” Research has shown that lutein, found in the macula and retina of the eye, can improve or even prevent age-related macular disease, which is the leading cause of blindness and vision impairment. This carotenoid is found in green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, broccoli, peas, collard greens, and lettuce.
Zeaxanthin is one of the most common carotenoids known for protecting eye tissues from the harmful effects of the sun and other light sources. The nutrient can be found in eggs, oranges, grapes, corn, goji berries, mangoes, and orange peppers.
The five micronutrients are all essential antioxidants, which are substances that can help the body fight off harmful free radicals. An excessive amount of free radicals can cause cell damage, including damage to DNA, and may contribute to the development of cancer and other health conditions.
The study indicates a connection between eating foods rich in antioxidants and high in carotenoids to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and improve overall brain health.
“This study, for the first time, demonstrates deficits in important dietary antioxidants in Alzheimer’s brains,” C. Kathleen Dorey, the study’s co-author, said in a press release.
Dorey, a professor in the Department of Basic Science Education at the medical school, said other large studies have found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was “significantly lower” in people who had diets rich in carotenoids or who had high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in their blood or accumulated in their retina as macular pigment.
“Not only that, but we believe eating carotenoid-rich diets will help keep brains in top condition at all ages,” Dorey said.
Potential Causes and Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
An estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older will be living with Alzheimer’s in 2023, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In addition, 73 percent are age 75 or older, and almost two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women.
Scientists do not fully understand what leads to the cell death and tissue loss that occurs in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common type of dementia. However, they think it’s connected to the brain losing its ability to properly get rid of an abnormal buildup of proteins that form amyloid plaques and tau tangles—the distinctive indicators of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Virginia Tech investigators say that multiple factors can potentially contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, such as mitochondrial dysfunction, inflammation, and oxidative damage. A decrease in antioxidants to reduce such damage can cause the brain to become more frail and threaten cognitive function, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, according to the researchers.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that begins with mild memory loss and worsens over time. Besides memory loss, some of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s are the following:
• Difficulty performing familiar and routine tasks, such as cooking, using a mobile phone, shopping, bathing, or grooming
• Trouble with handling money, like balancing a checkbook or keeping track of bills
• Doing or saying something over and over, like repeating a word, telling the same story multiple times, or asking the same question over and over
• Confusion about time and place, trouble understanding what day it is or where they are
• Wandering or becoming lost in familiar places
• Trouble recognizing familiar faces
• Decreased or poor judgment
• Struggling to find the right words to say or put feelings into words
• Sudden loss of interest in family, friends, work, and social events
• Personality changes, such as getting upset, worried, afraid, or anxious more easily, acting depressed, or becoming paranoid.
• Misplacing items in unusual areas and losing the ability to retrace steps
While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, health experts say that certain treatments are available that can slow the progression of the brain disorder.
“Recent advances in new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease show exciting promise as an effective way to slow disease progression,” Dorey also said in the press release. “I’d be thrilled if our data motivated people to keep their brains in optimum condition with a colorful diet with abundant carotenoids and regular exercise. Available studies suggest this may also reduce risk for dementia.”