The role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease dementia
Dementia While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease dementia, there is an increasing level of evidence about the role of nutrition in the management of this wide-spread age-related disease.
Alzheimer’s disease dementia affects over half a million people in the UK, and this is set to increase over the next ten years.
“We need a paradigm shift in the way we regard Alzheimer’s disease dementia. It’s not a disease that we can develop a vaccine for. There will not be a miracle cure or magic bullet,” says Dr David Wilkinson, from Southampton University’s Memory Assessment and Research Centre.
He explains: “Around 97% of people with Alzheimer’s disease dementia do not have a genetic cause. Alzheimer’s disease dementia is caused by age related brain failure. It is basically ‘organ failure’ like heart failure or kidney failure. We don’t cure these conditions; we manage them with multiple therapies, allowing people to live as well as possible with the disease.
There are no causal genes for Alzheimer’s disease dementia, which comes on late in life, but there are susceptibility genes that can increase your risk. These susceptibility genes are related to the upkeep of healthy cell membranes; including those in the brain.
Dr Wilkinson: “We need building blocks to create healthy brain cell membranes and as the brain nerve cells start to fail – a normal part of ageing – we need even more.”
Cell membranes have synapses stemming from them which allow cells to communicate with one another. A loss of synapses is one of the key elements of mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Cell membranes are made of a layer of fatty acids that include phospholipids and cholesterol and a recent scientific study has demonstrated that low levels of ten vital phospholipids has been shown to predict memory loss with greater than 90% accuracy.
“It is important to ensure the brain cell membranes have enough phospholipids and other fatty acids to allow them to function properly,” says Dr Wilkinson.
While a dramatic change to a nutrient-rich diet may help, it’s difficult to achieve the right combination of nutrients to support brain cell membrane growth. Dr Wilkinson points out that including single nutrients, such as Vitamin B, Omega-3 fatty acids or phospholipids, are not enough, and that a combination of nutrients is required.
Considering the future of Alzheimer’s disease dementia, Dr Wilkinson comments: “We are never going to find a simple cure for age-related brain failure in the same way we have not found a single cure for heart failure or lung failure. However, we will find treatments and with effective management of the risk factors through changing people’s lifestyles the disease will not carry the fear it now does.
“The opportunity, therefore, is to focus on researching and targeting specific nutrition approaches as part of the management of dementia. People with mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia and their carers are encouraged to speak to a healthcare professional to discuss management of the condition, including the role of nutrition.”