There is now a much greater awareness of the impact that what we choose to eat and drink can have on our bodies, and which foods are good for us to eat.
Eating healthily is important for everyone, but for certain groups of people, the correct nutrition can be vital. This includes people who are trying to lose weight, gain weight, or who suffer from certain medical conditions such as cancer or Alzheimer’s.
Research findings have suggested that nutrition may have a big part to play in the development of Alzheimer’s, from helping to preventing the disease taking hold to slowing down its progress in patients who have been diagnosed as suffering from the disease.
Nutrition for the elderly
Alzheimer’s is generally a disease that affects the elderly, who as a group are already going through a number of changes with regards to their nutritional needs and wants - both in terms of what they eat and how much.
As people get older, they might find their appetites change and also their senses of taste and smell, which can affect how they feel about certain foods. People might also find that food they were able to eat without a problem when they were younger suddenly doesn’t agree with them anymore, and now gives them indigestion and heart burn, or an upset stomach.
In addition, people often become less active as they get older, and therefore need fewer calories. Many will find that their appetite reduces as well, but for those who continue to eat as much as before, there can be a real risk of excessive weight gain. Although people may eat less as they get older, it is still important to ensure that they continue to consume enough of all the necessary food groups. One option could be to include some of the so-called ‘superfoods’ in their daily food intake. Superfoods are given that name because of their high nutritional value, and include items such as blueberries, pomegranate and black beans. Another food source with a high nutritional value is seaweed, which is a good source of essential fatty acids, fiber and vitamins. It is also thought to contain a number of medicinal properties as well and could therefore provide a valuable addition to the elderly diet.
Studies into nutrition and Alzheimer’s
The National Institute on Aging report on a number of studies which have found that eating a low-fat diet that contains many vegetables, fruits and whole grains can help to slow down a decline in cognitive function.
On the other hand, animal tests discovered that foods high in saturated fats and that contain too many refined carbohydrates were found to significantly decrease brain function, particularly with regards to memory and learning.
One study found that food traditionally associated with a Mediterranean diet was particularly helpful in preserving brain function.
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) suggest that food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and chicken could be helpful in maintaining memory functions and thinking abilities.
“Since there are no definitive treatments for most dementing illnesses, modifiable activities, such as diet, that may delay the onset of symptoms of dementia, are very important,” said Georgios Tsivgoulis, M.D., one of the study’s authors and a neurologist with UAB and the University of Athens, Greece.
He also stressed however that diet is not the only lifestyle factor that can play an important part in helping to preserve brain function in later life. Regular exercise, being a non-smoker and avoiding obesity will also have a big influence on physical and mental health as we get older.
Links with diabetes
The Mayo Clinic report that studies have found a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s, which may be related to the way the body processes sugar and responds to insulin. Some researchers have even started to refer to Alzheimer’s as “Type 3 diabetes, or diabetes of the brain”. As a result, some experts believe that reducing the consumption of sugar may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a traumatic disease for both sufferers and their families. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is estimated to affect over five million Americans and is the 6th main cause of death in our country today.
However, a growing body of scientific research suggests there are steps we can take through adjusting our diet and lifestyle to reduce our risk of developing this terrible disease. Similarly, there are ways we can help to slow down its progress should we be unlucky enough to develop it. This knowledge, combined with ongoing medical research into new treatments and preventions, will hopefully help us to fight back against Alzheimer’s.