Is There Hope for Alzheimer’s

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Food and Health, Health Current Events, Nutritiion, Vitamins and Health

Preventing Cognitive Decline As We Age

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 alzheimer's

As we age nothing is more terrifying than the word Alzheimer’s. For most of us the ultimate irony would be to spend a lifetime taking good care of our body, only to lose our mind. From time to time there are encouraging reports about the potential of low fat diets, diets rich in fruits and vegetables, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, various herbs, and other natural approaches that might slow cognitive decline as we age.

Inevitably, it seems, those hopes are dashed by subsequent meta-analyses supposedly showing that each of those approaches is worthless. That wouldn’t be so bad if there were effective medications to slow cognitive decline and prevent Alzheimer’s, but there aren’t. The Alzheimer’s drugs on the market today simply have not been shown to be effective.

But, what if all of these studies were missing the mark by focusing on individual interventions? Perhaps we should be focusing a holistic approach instead.

 

The Power of Holistic Approaches

One of the examples of the power of a holistic approach that I love to use, because it really made an impression on me as a young scientist, occurred at an International Cancer Symposium I attended more than 30 years ago.

I attended a session in which an internally renowned expert was giving his talk on colon cancer. He said, “I can show you, unequivocally, that colon cancer risk is significantly decreased by a lifestyle that includes a high-fiber diet, a low-fat diet, adequate calcium, adequate B-vitamins, exercise and weight control. But I can’t show you that any one of them, by themselves, is effective.”

The question that came to me as I heard him speak was: “What’s the message that a responsible scientist or responsible health professional should be giving to their patients or the people that they’re advising?” You’ve heard experts saying: “Don’t worry about the fat” “Don’t worry about calcium.” “Don’t worry about B-vitamins.” “Don’t worry about fiber.” “None of them can be shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer.”

Is that the message that we should be giving people? Or should we really be saying what that doctor said many years ago – a lifestyle that includes all of those things significantly decreases the risk of colon cancer?

What about Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline? Could a holistic approach have an impact here as well?

 

Is There Hope For Alzheimer’s?

preventing-cognitive-declineA study performed by Dr. Miia Kivipelto and colleagues at the Karolinska Insitute in Sweden and the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland suggests that a holistic approach may, in fact, be able to slow cognitive decline in older people.

Previous studies had suggested that exercise, a good diet, socialization and memory training might slow cognitive decline in the elderly, but, like all other individual interventions, the benefits of these interventions were not reproducible. Dr. Kivipelto and colleagues designed a clinical study that combined all of these interventions into a single holistic approach.

They started with 1,260 healthy adults aged 60-77 from Sweden and Finland and divided them into two groups. One group was enrolled in a holistic program involving exercise, a healthy diet, socialization and memory training. This group was closely monitored for compliance. The other group was just given general health advice – not unlike the advice you might expect to receive from your doctor.

Each group was given a memory test at the beginning of the study and a second memory test two years later. Both groups scored about the same on the first memory test. However, the group enrolled in the holistic program did considerably better on the second memory test than the control group who had just been given general health advice.

One of the lead investigators was quoted as saying: “These findings show that prevention is possible, and it may be good to start early [before the signs of cognitive decline become evident]. With so many negative trials of Alzheimer’s drugs reportedly lately, it’s good that we may have something that everyone can do now to lower their risk [of cognitive decline].”

 

Limitations of the Study

There are two big caveats for this study.

1)     The study was too short to assess the effectiveness of this approach at reducing Alzheimer’s. The investigators plan to continue the study for 7 years. They hope that enough participants will have developed Alzheimer’s by then so they can accurately assess whether this approach is as effective at preventing Alzheimer’s as it is at preventing cognitive decline.

2)     This study was recently presented at an Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. It has not yet undergone the rigorous peer review required for publication. Once the study has been published I will give you an update.

 

The Bottom Line

1)     It has been very difficult to prove that individual interventions, whether they are natural or pharmaceutical, are effective at preventing cognitive decline and the onset of Alzheimer’s as we age.

2)    However, a recent study suggests that a holistic approach that includes exercise, optimal nutrition, socialization and memory training may be effective at preventing cognitive decline in older adults.

3)     Based on previously published individual studies, optimal nutrition probably includes:

  • A diet low in fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats
  • A diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Extra B vitamins, especially with high risk populations
  • Extra omega-3 fatty acids

4)     Although not mentioned in this study, maintaining proper body weight is also an important part of a holistic approach to reducing the risk of cognitive decline. In a previous “Health Tips From the Professor” I shared data showing that obesity alone can cause a 3-fold increase in the risk of developing dementia.

5)    The take home message should not be that each of the natural interventions is ineffective at preventing cognitive decline as we age. Rather, the message should be that a holistic approach that combines all of the natural interventions may be effective at preventing cognitive decline.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (1)

  • Carol Cash

    |

    Well said as usual! It’s the whole that matters – we’re not plugging holes, we’re giving the body a strong base so that it can help itself!

    Reply

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Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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