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Published on: May 7, 2017
by Women’s Brain Health Initiative:
With the recent disappointing results of Alzheimer’s and dementia-related drugs showing efficacy at trial, research on lifestyle and nutrition on brain health has been gaining momentum. Nutritional modifications have the advantage of being cost effective, easy to implement, generally safe and, in most cases, devoid of significant adverse effects. Many experts recommend getting your vitamins and minerals intake through a balanced, healthy diet. Along with engaging in mental and physical exercise,well-balanced vitamin and mineral consumption “helps to slow down the aging process and slow mental decline,” says Dr. Weihong Song, a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer’s disease.
The following is a summary of the most recent findings on vitamins and your brain health:
Vitamin A is primarily known for its ability to keep eyes and skin healthy. But does it have an effect on brain health, too? New research out of the University of British Columbia has found a link between in utero Vitamin A deficiency and an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Building on previous studies that linked low levels of Vitamin A with cognitive impairments in seniors, Dr. Song and his colleagues examined the effects of Vitamin A deprivation in the womb and infancy using genetically-engineered mice. The study, published online in Acta Neuropathologica, found that mice deprived of Vitamin A as fetuses developed more severe cognitive impairment and had increased production of amyloid beta — the protein that forms plaques that kill neurons in Alzheimer’s patients. The researchers also found that these mice, when deprived of Vitamin A, performed worse as adults on a standard test of learning and memory. However, Dr. Song and his colleagues demonstrated that some reversal is possible. Mice who were deprived of Vitamin A in utero but were subsequently provided with supplements as newborns performed better on the tests than mice that did not receive such supplements.
Dr. Song notes that Vitamin A deficiency, though common in many low-income regions of the world where food choice is limited, is uncommon in North America. What’s more, excess intake of the nutrient could be harmful to our systems and may cause liver damage, bone pain, and other health issues. It is also important to note that this study is not suggesting that Vitamin A can prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease, but rather “if you’re lacking Vitamin A you have a higher chance of getting dementia or Alzheimer’s-related dementia.”
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant – a molecule that helps to counteract the free radicals that damage cells in the body. The best sources of beta-carotene are yellow, orange, and green leafy fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, yam, spinach, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe). In general, the more intense the colour of the fruit or vegetable, the more beta-carotene it contains. Some of the beta-carotene that we consume gets converted to Vitamin A in our bodies after we eat the fruits and vegetables that are rich in the antioxidant (this precursor form of Vitamin A is non-toxic). Research published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2012 suggests that beta-carotene, along with Vitamin C, may help guard against the body’s neurodegeneration (when neurons in the brain are damaged), which has been established as prevalent in individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, research out of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine published in the Journal of Gerontology in 2006 examined data of seniors over a period of seven years and found that “among high-functioning older persons antioxidants and beta-carotene in particular may offer protection from cognitive decline in persons with greater genetic susceptibility” to cognitive dysfunction. Most health organizations suggest getting your beta-carotene from food sources instead of relying on supplements.
Vitamin B consists of eight different vitamins (thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, folate (B9) and vitamin B12) that each serve to support the nervous system. Research out of Oxford University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in 2013, indicates that Vitamin B treatment could be used to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers used a high-dose B-vitamin treatment (B6, B9, B12) with participants who were over 70 years old and had mild cognitive impairment, and were considered to be at a higher risk of dementia. Those who received the Vitamin B treatment for two years (compared with those receiving a placebo), experienced a “slowing [in] the loss of grey matter in areas of the brain that are specifically affected by the Alzheimer’s disease neurodegenerative process” as evidenced by magnetic resonance
imaging (MRI) scans, says Dr. Gwenaëlle Douaud, one of the researchers on the study. While this news is exciting, this study was relatively small and more research needs to be conducted to determine whether Vitamin B supplementation is useful for the general population of older adults.
Like many of the other vitamins, supplementing with doses that are too high can be detrimental to one’s health. Too much B6, for instance, can damage nerves and too much B3 can cause nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms.
Vitamin C is not only great for keeping a winter cold at bay, but also boosts immunity and can help curtail the development of many diseases. Research published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2012 found that Vitamin C levels in individuals with mild dementia were “significantly lower” than in control persons even after adjusting for “school education, intake of dietary supplements, smoking habits, body mass index, and alcohol consumption.” What’s more, work published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias in 2013 suggests that since oxidative stress is believed to play a major role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (those damaging free radicals at work again), Vitamin C’s well-known antioxidant capabilities could impact these degenerative processes. No better reason to eat your dark, leafy greens and to snack on oranges!
Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium and magnesium are two of the most powerful minerals for a healthy brain. Of course, we know that we need calcium for healthy bones but “the body also needs calcium for muscles to move and for nerves to carry messages between the brain and every body part,” according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Because the body stores calcium in the bones and draws upon it if needed, people usually are not deficient for the key bodily functions; however, as we age, the risk of developing osteoporosis increases. In addition to milk and yogurt, eat kale and broccoli for good sources of calcium.
Magnesium is needed to regulate muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure, and it helps make protein, bone, and DNA, according to the NIH. Research published in the journal Neuron in 2010 found that elderly rats experienced better working short- and long-term memory when given magnesium. Additionally, a 2016 PhD dissertation out of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale found that magnesium helps rats with a traumatic brain injury to improve cognitive and motor functions. Green leafy veggies, nuts, and seeds, as well as some fortified foods, are good sources of magnesium.
Choline is another vitamin that has been deemed necessary for brain health. In fact, the NIH says that “the availability of choline for the normal development of the brain is critical” and encourages pregnant women to eat choline-rich foods to ensure that their babies are getting enough of the vitamin. Research published in the 2011 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied individuals who did not have dementia and found that those who were getting enough choline through their diets had better cognitive performance than those who did not.
Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2012 found that choline, along with uridine and the fatty acid DHA, helps individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s to improve their memory. More clinical trials are being conducted with this cocktail. Choline is found in eggs, liver, chicken, and soy and kidney beans.
Vitamin D has been long known to support bone health and can help stave off osteoporosis because it helps the body absorb calcium; however, this did not explain “why there were Vitamin D receptors throughout the brain,” says Dr. David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School in the United Kingdom. Dr. Llewellyn and his colleagues published research in 2014 that shows that Vitamin D is linked to brain health and, more specifically, that people with low levels of Vitamin D experienced approximately a 60% increased risk of cognitive decline, and those who had dementia or Alzheimer’s disease experienced approximately a 120% higher risk. Why is Vitamin D so important to brain health? Although more research needs to be conducted, Dr. Llewellyn points out that “it seems that Vitamin D is protective in the brain in a number of ways, it is good for vascular health and may protect against stroke, which is one of the major risk factors for dementia, and it may also protect against smaller vascular abnormalities that you see in the brain that have also been linked with a dementia risk.” Dementia is also associated with calcium dysregulation and “Vitamin D is a very potent regulator of calcium, so it might help there as well.”
Many individuals living in developed countries are deficient in Vitamin D because one of the best ways to get it is by absorbing it through the skin from the sun – meaning that during the wintertime, or in places that are often cloudy, it becomes difficult to get enough of the vitamin. Oily fish is one of the best food sources of Vitamin D, says Dr. Llewellyn, but people do not consume enough of it to get the required amount. Vitamin D is one vitamin that you should consider supplementing if you know you are not getting enough of it, but first check your country-specific guidelines for dosage recommendations. Too much Vitamin D can lead to too-high calcium levels in the blood, which can cause bone pain and affect the organs – so more is not necessarily better.
Vitamin E is another antioxidant that protects our bodies from free radical damage. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2013 found that “among patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, 2000 IU/day of alpha tocopherol [Vitamin E] compared with placebo resulted in slower functional decline.” These findings suggest that those Alzheimer’s patients getting an adequate amount of Vitamin E can maintain a higher quality of life for longer. More recent research published in the Journal of Lipid Research in 2015 compared zebrafish who received a diet deficient in Vitamin E with those who received adequate amounts. The researchers found that the Vitamin E-deficient fish had lower levels of very important brain-building fat phosphocholine with DHA, which is found in fatty fish like salmon.
“If you don’t have adequate Vitamin E, you aren’t protecting the important fatty acid in your brain, DHA, which is present in fish oils,” says Dr. Maret Traber, a professor at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and lead author of the study.
The latest dietary guidelines suggest that 96% of women in the United States are deficient in Vitamin E, says Dr. Traber, and that this is because the foods that are high in the vitamin are not eaten frequently (foods like nuts, seeds, and more expensive oils like olive oil). As a result, a supplement or multivitamin may make sense. Be aware, however, that getting too much Vitamin E from supplements (rather than food) can cause blood hemorrhage, according to the NIH, and supplements can interact with several medications.
Research about the relationship between zinc and Alzheimer’s disease is currently inconsistent. A 2013 study out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that low zinc levels “may contribute to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s” because of zinc’s role in creating proteins in the body and the brain. However, other studies published in 2014 have found that zinc levels did not matter when it came to Alzheimer’s; rather, lower levels of zinc are simply indicative of the aging process in general. With many nutrients, more research is required, but we know that the body needs zinc because it increases immunity and some research suggests that it can help slow macular degeneration. Zinc is found in red meat, poultry, grains, and nuts.
While more long-term studies need to be conducted to determine exactly how particular vitamins may or may not impact Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, the foregoing research shows excellent promise for better understanding, preventing, and possibly treating the disease. Remember to check with your doctor before starting to take any kind of supplementation.
Source: MIND OVER MATTER
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