Alzheimer’s disease is arguably one of the biggest concerns when it comes to aging and mental health. The effects of memory loss from Alzheimer’s are so severe that we forget our loved ones and other critical bits of information, like phone numbers and addresses. While Alzheimer’s disease currently has no known cure, recent research on diets has found a potential means for slowing its effects on memory loss. The results could make a world of difference in developing treatment plans for Alzheimer’s disease.
A study by researchers at the University of Southern California found that mice that previously displayed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease showed improvements in memory when put on a low-protein diet over a four month period. When compared against the control group, the treated mice showed better cognitive abilities in memory tests—improved cognitive function is significant when treating Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, the mice showed less damaged protein in the brain, which is a common condition seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
Dietary protein helps the body regulate the growth hormone IGF-1. When we are young, our bodies need IGF-1 to grow. In older bodies, the hormone has been linked to several diseases, including diabetes and cancer. A less-than-desirable solution would be to take prescribed drugs to manipulate IGF-1 levels in the body—although no such drug exists yet and likely won’t for at least 15 years.
This study was able to uncover a dietary measure that could help treat or even prevent Alzheimer’s by controlling IGF-1 levels without a drug. The results showed that the low-protein diet in the mice helped to protect the brain from degeneration. A particular protein was found to reduce levels of IGF-1 in the body by up to 70%. In addition, the diet caused an eightfold increase in the protein that blocks IGF-1’s destructive activity by actually binding to it. If these results translate to human subjects, it can lead to serious breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research.
In the meantime, however, it wouldn’t hurt for Alzheimer’s patients to try and incorporate a similar diet on their own. Simply make an increased effort to eat foods that are lower in protein, such as potatoes, fruits, vegetables, bread, and pasta. Because of the risk of an amino acid deficiency, excessive weight loss, and other negative side effects, those attempting this diet should always have their progress monitored by a doctor or dietician. Also, keep in mind that some older adults may not be able to maintain a low-protein diet due to other health conditions, frailty, or already having a body weight that is too low.
While Alzheimer’s disease currently remains incurable, significant research like this provides hope that an effective treatment method may not be too far off. A low-protein diet might just be the ideal way to reduce the threat and impact that Alzheimer’s disease has on aging adults.
“Low-protein diet slows Alzheimer’s in mice,” EurekAlert! web site; https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-02/uosc-lds021413.php, last accessed May 22, 2013.
Parrella, E., et al., “Protein restriction cycles reduce IGF-1 and phosphorylated Tau, and improve behavioral performance in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model,” Aging Cell 2013; 12: 257-268.