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Polyphenols May Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease


A diet rich in plant nutrients known as polyphenols, as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids, may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A new animal study conducted in Spain shows that a diet based on polyphenols and fatty acids promotes brain cell growth in an area damaged in Alzheimer’s.

Polyphenols are found in foods such as apples, onions, olive oil, nuts, grapes, and soybeans, while polyunsaturated fatty acids are abundant in oily fish and vegetables such as corn and soybeans. These foods are part of a Mediterranean diet, an eating plan that has been associated with slower cognitive decline, reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment conversion to Alzheimer’s, and with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In this new study, the researchers note that their results indicate that diet is capable of initiating the generation of new cells in the adult brain. They also point out that polyphenols and polyunsaturated fatty acids facilitate strengthening of the neural networks, which are affected by age, and protect neurons from oxidative and neural damage.

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To arrive at these findings, the team used two groups of mice: one was given a normal diet and the other received the same diet enriched with a supplement that contained a patented mixture of polyphenols and fatty acids (LMN diet). The study continued for 40 days, which the investigators claim is equivalent to about five years in humans.

All the animals underwent biochemical and molecular analysis techniques to determine the extent of change in the brain for the mice given polyphenols and fatty acids. The investigators found that the treated mice had a significantly higher amount of stem cells and new differentiated cells in the olfactory bulb and hippocampus, two regions of the brain that are affected in Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Another benefit discovered during the study was the ability of polyphenols and fatty acids to help prevent damage caused by oxidation. The researchers reported that pretreating cells with the polyphenol and fatty acid mixture was capable of reducing and in some cases completely preventing oxidative damage in the brain.

This study is part of a four-year project called CENIT, which involves nine companies, four universities, and two research centers with the goal of developing methodologies for the design, evaluation, and verification of functional foods that may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular diseases. The polyphenol and fatty acid mixture used in this study has previously been effective in regulating cholesterol and hypertension, two risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

Feart C et al. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 2009 Oct 14.
Hughes TF et al. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2009 Nov. 10
Valente T et al. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2009 Aug 3