Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can be difficult not only for people afflicted with the disease, but also the loved ones around them, and unfortunately, this form of dementia is prevalent and on the rise. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and that number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million by 2050.
The numbers around this frustrating, scary and debilitating disease truly are eye-opening, as relayed by the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Approximately 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and up are living with this disease in 2023, with 73% of them 75 or older.
- Roughly 10.7% of Americans 65 or older have Alzheimer’s (one in nine).
- Nearly two-thirds of Americans with this disease are women.
- Black Americans are about twice as likely as white Americans to have Alzheimer’s, while Hispanics are about 1.5 time as likely to have it.
- A third of seniors die with Alzheimer’s or dementia — more than breast and prostate cancers combined.
- Currently costing the nation about $345 billion for Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment, the cost is estimated to reach almost $1 trillion (with a T!) by 2050.
- The lifetime risk for Alzheimer’s at age 45 is one in five for women and one in 10 for men.
These numbers illustrate why understanding the characteristics of Alzheimer’s patients and what can play a role in the disease developing is so crucial. As such, researchers from the RUSH University Memory and Aging Project in Chicago and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine sought to test “the hypothesis that micronutrients are significantly lower in donor brains with AD than in healthy elderly brains.”
What they found was that the brains of AD patients had lower levels of certain micronutrients, as suspected.
Study Findings: Alzheimer’s Patients Have Lower Levels of Certain Nutrients
In order to test this hypothesis, the researchers examined samples of donor brains with confirmed Alzheimer’s or verified health by dissecting them into grey and white matter after analyzing cognitive performance and the diets of the study participants for more than 10 years, focusing on carotenoid intake. What did they find?
The brains of AD patients had significantly lower levels of the following carotenoids:
In addition, the researchers observed that the study participants who followed the MIND diet had a reduced risk of AD, better cognitive performance and less AD-related brain pathology. This makes sense since the MIND diet is high in foods that provide carotenoids and other micronutrients.
“This study, for the first time, demonstrates deficits in important dietary antioxidants in Alzheimer’s brains. These results are consistent with large population studies that found risk for Alzheimer’s disease was significantly lower in those who ate diets rich in carotenoids, or had high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in their blood, or accumulated in their retina as macular pigment,” said study co-author C. Kathleen Dorey, professor in the Department of Basic Science Education at the Virginia Tech medical school. “Not only that, but we believe eating carotenoid-rich diets will help keep brains in top condition at all ages.”
“Recent advances in new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease show exciting promise as an effective way to slow disease progression,” Dorey added. “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.”
Other Ways to Protect Brain Health
In addition to “eating the rainbow” and following a healthy diet, like the MIND diet or Mediterranean diet, here are some other ways to protect cognition and help prevent AD and dementia development:
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain gut health, since gut health and brain health are connected (the gut-brain connection).
- Supplement with things like fish oil, vitamin D3, CoQ10, ginkgo biloba and phosphatidylserine.
- Use essential oils, such as frankincense and rosemary oil.
- Drink tea for Alzheimer’s prevention.
- Balance bad LDL cholesterol and good HDL cholesterol for lowering Alzheimer’s risk.
- Avoid or limit foods that raise Alzheimer’s risk, such as red meat, refined carbs and sugars, and high-AGE foods (aka advanced glycation end products).
- Increase antioxidant intake.
- Consider jobs that potentially could help protect against AD.
- Eat more brains foods, such as avocado, beets, berries, bone broth and more.