By: David A Fein, MD
New research from UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has demonstrated for the first time a direct effect of a healthy lifestyle on the build-up of the the proteins in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.
The researchers used PET scans to measure the level of beta-amyloid and tau protein in the brain. Beta-amyloid makes up the plaques that appear to be deposits of a toxic protein in the spaces between nerve cells. Tau is another abnormal protein found within the brain cells. Both of these are considered to be key indicators of the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The study looked at 44 adults ranging from 40 to 85 years old who had mild memory changes but had not yet developed dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. They found that maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active and eating a Mediterranean Diet were each associated with lower level of both beta-amyloid and Tau on the PET scans.
“The fact that we could detect this influence of lifestyle at a molecular level before the beginning of serious memory problems surprised us,” said Dr. David Merrill, the lead author of the study, which appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Earlier studies have shown that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping your brain active (such as learning a new language, developing a new hobby, etc) can help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. However, this is the first time that it has been demonstrated that there is a measurably lower level of the protein markers that are thought to lead to Alzheimer’s Disease in people based on lifestyle factors.
“The study reinforces the importance of living a healthy life to prevent Alzheimer’s, even before the development of clinically significant dementia,” Merrill said. “This work lends key insight not only into the ability of patients to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but also physicians’ ability to detect and image these changes.”