Dr. Simon Evans
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease where
circuits in the brain literally get ‘tangled up’ and cause cognitive
problems. Research into the causes and possible treatments for
Alzheimer’s is intensive and beginning to provide rays of hope for
families hit with this disorder.
The Triple Threat
One tool that researchers have used extensively is a mouse model,
which is genetically destined to get Alzheimer’s disease due to three
separate genes. There are several paths to Alzheimer’s, but having a
gene that increases your risk for getting the disease does not
guarantee you will get it. It still depends on many lifestyle factors,
including your physical activity, nutrition and level of
the Alzheimer’s mouse model, called the 3xTg-AD mouse, has the deck
stacked against it with multiple genes increasing its risk and almost
A couple of recent studies used these mice to look at the role of some
specific dietary factors in helping or hurting the mice’s chances. The
first study looked at low omega-3 to
omega-6 ratios in the context
of a low or high fat diet. The second study used vitamin B3 (nicotinamide)
to try and counter some of the cognitive problems the mice develop as
Fish for Brains
Julien et al. from Lavel University in Quebec published a study in the
Neurobiology of Aging, in which they reported a double whammy of low
omega-3s and high fat that seems to make the genetically susceptible
mice fair worse. Unfortunately, the diet they discovered as further
increasing Alzheimer’s risk is not that different from what most
westerners are eating.
Many folks in North America eat too much saturated fat and not enough
good omega-3 fat from fish. When researchers gave this kind of diet to
the Alzheimer’s mice, the brains of the mice had several increased
markers of Alzheimer’s pathology. In teasing out the dietary problems,
researchers found that either a high fat diet or a diet low in
omega-3s, caused problems. When they combined the two, feeding low
omega-3s in the context of a high fat diet, those problems compounded.
These data are consistent with previous observational studies in
humans that show people who eat less omega-3s have increased rates of
Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, studies have not shown success of
using omega-3 supplementation to treat Alzheimer’s once it takes hold.
However, there has been some success in treating early mild dementia.
These studies, along with the new data from mice suggest that we
should get plenty of omega-3s into our diet earlier to help drive down
the risk of Alzheimer’s later.
Vitamin B3 gets an A
Still, there may be good news on the Horizon for those who are already
heading down the Alzheimer’s road. Green et. al. from UC-Irvine
published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience that demonstrated
some remarkable effects of
at protecting the genetically prone mice from getting Alzheimer’s.
Now, before you rush out and start dosing up, realize this is a
preliminary study that used whopping amounts of vitamin B3.
Researchers fed mice at about 100 times the RDA and at about 10 times
doses previously shown to cause some toxicity in humans. Still, the
study is promising because it helps reveal some ways in which we might
approach preventing Alzheimer’s disease in high-risk populations.
Researchers dosed up the 3xTg-AD mice with large amounts of
nicotinamide, an active form of vitamin B3, in their drinking water.
These mice performed as well as normal mice on many memory and other
cognitive tests. Conversely, the Alzheimer’s prone mice that didn’t
get the vitamin B3 showed the expected cognitive decline associated
The cool thing about both of these studies is that they open the door
for more research using
nutritional approaches to
treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It’s clear that genetics plays
a role in some, but not all cases of dementia. But it’s also clear
that we don’t have to accept our genetic predispositions in many
cases. It is not fate. They way we choose to live our lives, including
what we choose to eat, will play a large role in our cognitive future.
Journal of Neuroscience (2008), 28(45): 11500-11510.
Neurobiology of Aging (2008), In Press.
About the Author:
Dr. Simon Evans holds a PhD in molecular biology with 15 years
research and teaching experience in neuroscience and a current faculty
position in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Michigan.
He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, the American Society
for Nutrition and the Michigan Metabolomics and Obesity Center; with
expertise in neurochemistry and nutrition. He is the author of dozens
of scientific publications on stress, depression and brain function as
well as the acclaimed book, BrainFit for Life, published in the Spring
Dr. Evans also holds a national coaching license from the United
States Soccer Federation and over two decades coaching experience,
which enables him to help people find and use their full potential.
Dr. Evans has merged his interests in brain function, health, and
performance coaching into public seminars and workshops designed to
educate audiences about brain health and motivate them to take action
to achieve it.
Additional Information and
webpage by Paul Susic MA Licensed
Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate