Diet Minerals May Affect Alzheimers Risk

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2013-08-21 09:59

Recently, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine developed a set of dietary guidelines aimed to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Two specific minerals in the diet have been linked to cognitive problems, and current studies seem to further confirm this link.

Researchers with UCLA, led by Dr. George Bartzokis, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, studied two areas of the brain known to be damaged by Alzheimer’s disease. The hippocampus, which plays a role in long-term memory and spatial navigation, is typically affected during the early states of the disease, and the thalamus, an area that regulates consciousness and alertness, which is usually not affected until the late stages of Alzheimer’s.

Using brain-imaging techniques, Dr. Bartzokis’ team found that the hippocampus of patients with Alzheimer’s disease has iron accumulation which causes tissue damage. Increased iron was not found in the thalamus.

Myelin, the fatty tissue that coats nerve fibers in the brain, is damaged during the disease process leading to disruption of communication between neurons and cell death. Myelin is produced by cells called oligodendrocytes, which have the highest levels of iron of any other cells in the brain. Although iron is essential for cell function, too much can promote oxidative damage.

Thankfully, we may be able to control this through a preventative diet. "The accumulation of iron in the brain may be influenced by modifying environmental factors, such as how much red meat and iron dietary supplements we consume and, in women, having hysterectomies before menopause," said Dr. Bartzokis.

A separate study, conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, focused on another mineral – copper. Found in red meat, vegetables, dairy products, and pipes that carry drinking water, it has been thought to cause a breakdown in the blood-brain barrier, leading to a buildup of the protein amyloid beta within the brain.

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