Diet And Brain Health

The fact that the topic of diet and brain health keeps popping up in the medical literature, is significant. This year has not been any exception.

The Mediterranean diet in particular has been shown to have very positive effects on postponing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 5 years.

A clinical study on 674 elderly patients (mean age 80.1 years) without dementia, was published in the journal “Neurology”. It examined the question whether adherence to the Mediterranean diet would affect the degree of brain atrophy. Researchers already knew that Alzheimer’s disease was less common on a Mediterranean diet.

The findings were interesting: a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet led to a higher total brain volume, total grey matter volume and total white matter volume as measured with high-resolution structural MRI scans.

Quality of diet influences cortical thickness of brain

Lower meat intake led to higher brain volume. In addition, more fish intake also caused the mean cortical thickness of the brain to increase. Parts of the brain in Alzheimer’s patients showed atrophy like in the cingulate cortex, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and hippocampus with good volumes on MRI scans when patients adhered to the Mediterranean diet. These volumes started to shrink when the diet was poor.

Those patients adhering to a Mediterranean diet have brains that on MRI scan look 5 years younger and are much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Physicians have known for a long time that people, who eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, don’t smoke and who keep mentally stimulated will generally have healthier brains than people who don’t do these things.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

It involves eating meals derived from plants: vegetables, fruit, cereals, beans and nuts. You can eat fish and poultry twice per week. You cut down the amount of meat and dairy you eat, but you can have a glass of wine per day. Instead of butter olive oil is used instead. Here is more information of what is included in the Mediterranean diet.

Because there is less fat and less high glycemic index carbs in this diet, it is also a diet that lends itself for weight management. You shed a few pounds and reach your ideal body mass index without paying much attention to it.

Apart from the Mediterranean diet the MIND diet has also been shown to prevent brain atrophy. This diet is a combination of the DASH, which physicians developed for controlling high blood pressure, and the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet makes you live longer

The Nurses’ Health Study that has been going on since 1976 showed that telomeres, the caps on chromosomes, were getting shorter in nurses who lived on junk foods, but surprisingly nurses on the Mediterranean diet preserved their telomeres. Longer telomeres have an association with slower aging. And people with longer telomeres reach an older age without diseases like heart attacks, liver disease or cancer.

Exercise on top of the Mediterranean diet

In addition to relying on a healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, for your health, think about doing regular exercises. These two ingredients together will prevent heart attacks, strokes and other diseases. When you combine exercise with a healthy diet your abdominal girth shrinks as this study showed.

Another study showed that when a Mediterranean type diet is combined with regular exercise, adult onset diabetes occurrence could be reduced by 28-59%.

This is quite a significant effect of two simple interventions: a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Don’t smoke

It does not make sense to go on a healthy diet, exercise and then smoke! Interestingly an Iranian study showed that when people became health conscious, adopted a healthy diet and exercised, they also started to quit smoking. People who did all of this, quit smoking, eating healthy and exercising regularly, were also the happiest and most content.

Exercise your brain

The evidence shows that any stimulation of brain activity, particularly anything that requires active and abstract thinking will protect the brain from developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study showed that prevention of Alzheimer’s disease is achieved by quitting smoking, treating high blood pressure, stimulating the brain and treating diabetes.

Diet And Brain Health

Diet And Brain Health


us. This approach will be the most successful way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It starts with quitting smoking. It goes on to starting a Mediterranean diet and staying on it. Regular exercise will take care of preventing heart attacks and strokes. But exercise also ensures that all of your brain cells continue to get oxygen and nutrients. This in turn prevents brain shrinkage.

Weight loss included in Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet has a lower calorie content than the Standard American diet, there will be weight loss. The weight loss will continue until you reach your ideal body mass index. You can stimulate your brain by actively doing computer work, doing puzzles, playing a music instrument and phoning friends. In addition you may want to read reading books etc.. All this  will contribute to preventing Alzheimer’s. Watching TV or movies is not an active mental activity. This is passive thinking, which means it is not as valuable as the other activities. Pick a hobby that enhances your life, and your brain will thank you for it too!


Gene Therapy Can Repair Blood Vessels

When the first attempt of gene therapy were made, a concoction of LDL- receptor genes was infused into the portal vein of patients with a family trait of high cholesterol levels. This was back in 1989, and the results at that point were not encouraging.
In the meantime advances have been made in genetic research. Dr. Duncan Stewart of the cardiology department of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto who is considered by many as the guru of cardiac gene therapy, reports that we are now “at a crucial stage of the field”. He cautions, that having the gene on hand is only part of the answer. For good results it is also important to understand how the delivery system to the diseased organ works.

Gene therapy stands out from other treatment options, because instead of drugs, DNA is provided. DNA itself is not the therapeutic agent. It penetrates the cells where it sets up shop and produces proteins, which are needed for therapy. In the case of heart disease, where heart vessels are blocked or have been damaged, the idea is to send specific DNA sequences to the heart cells and stimulate the production of growth factors. These growth factors would trigger new heart vessels to grow and take over for damaged or blocked vessels. This is not just a dream of a research team: a gene therapy trial – the only one of its kind in Canada – is on its way under the leadership of Dr. Stewart. This ambitious project was launched in 2002. In seven sites across Canada 110 patients with heart disease are receiving the vascular endothelial growth factor gene (VEGF for short). The gene is being directly injected into the areas of the heart where blood vessels have become diseased or blocked. The placement is measured with a mapping system known as NOGA. At the end of the year the study enrolment will be finished. Patients will be followed up for results 6 months later. This therapy promises long lasting effects, but it  still has a long way to go.

Gene Therapy Can Repair Blood Vessels

Gene Therapy Can Repair Blood Vessels

Dr. Robert Hegele from the Blackburn Cardiovascular Genetic Laboratory at the University of Western Ontario is credited with uncovering eight genes for human disease (four of them are related to cardiovascular illness) and 80 mutations in other genes that are contributing to premature heart disease and diabetes. Dr. Hegel’s interest is to discover the villains that predispose people to illness, but at the same time he cautions that genes are not everything. Being genetically susceptible does not necessarily foretell one’s destiny when it comes to developing heart disease. Dr. Hegele emphasizes that the longer he works in the genetic field, the more he respects environment and lifestyle and finds that most people can even overturn genetic susceptibility and he leaves us with the final remark: “Tell your patients to stay away from tobacco, eat wisely and get that needed exercise.”

More info on arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries):

Reference: The Medical Post June 29, 2004 (Vol. 40, No.26): page 35

Comment (July 9, 2012): Note that this trial failed to show effectiveness as indicated in the paper below. So, eat wisely, exercise and don’t smoke.

VEGF gene therapy fails to improve perfusion of ischemic myocardium in patients with advanced coronary disease: results of the NORTHERN trial. Stewart DJ, Kutryk MJ, Fitchett D, Freeman M, Camack N, Su Y, Della Siega A, Bilodeau L, Burton JR, Proulx G, Radhakrishnan S; NORTHERN Trial Investigators. Mol Ther. 2009 Jun;17(6):1109-15. Epub 2009 Apr 7.

Last edited Oct. 26, 2014

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