You Aren't What You Don't Eat

You Aren’t What You Don’t Eat

“Alzheimer’s disease may be a chronic condition in which changes begin in midlife or even earlier.”

That quote, from Dr. John C Morris, director of Washington University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, appeared in a recent New York Times article. And the message couldn’t be clearer: Protect yourself now to alleviate problems later.

Early warning

As anyone who’s ever cared for someone with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) knows, erratic eating behavior is typical of AD patients. Naturally, poor nutrition follows.

To investigate exactly which nutrients AD patients may need the most, researchers at the University of Montreal recruited 36 patients in the early stages of AD, along with their caregivers. For comparison, nearly 60 healthy subjects were also recruited. These control subjects were in good cognitive health and matched to age with the AD subjects.

Over 18 months, researchers interviewed all of the subjects and their caregivers at least four times to assess dietary and supplement intake. Results showed significant differences between the two groups, with the healthy subjects getting considerably more calories and nutrients from their diets and supplement regimens.

AD subjects had lower intake of dietary fiber and protein, and were found to be generally deficient in these nutrients:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin K
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

The Montreal team noted that insufficient diet was clearly evident in the early onset of AD. And they added: “This vulnerable population would benefit from systematic dietary assessment and intervention to prevent further deterioration in food consumption and increased nutritional risk.”

Herbal helpers

The Montreal study isn’t the first evidence we’ve seen that connects poor nutrition to Alzheimer’s.

In the e-Alert “Early Bird” (4/26/07), I told you about Canadian research that revealed deficient levels of DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) in elderly patients with various types of dementia. In a follow up study, researchers analyzed ten years of data taken from more than 1,100 elderly men and women. Results showed that those with high levels of DHA had nearly 50 percent reduced risk of developing AD.

In addition to improving the diets of AD patients, supplementation with sage extract and lemon balm might also be beneficial in controlling the advance of AD, according to research detailed in the e-Alert “Riders of the Purple Sage” (9/29/05).

A team of scientists at the Medical Plant Research Centre (MPRC) in the UK have shown that sage inhibits an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which breaks down acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter chemical that’s typically deficient in Alzheimer’s patients.

For several years, MPRC director Elaine Perry has led her team in researching a variety of botanicals in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Most notably, Professor Perry has presented data that shows sage extract to have a significant effect on behavior and attention in AD patients. And when lemon balm is added to sage, the combination may improve memory and mood.

Professor Perry told Reuters Health: “Lemon balm reduced agitation and improved quality of life in people with Alzheimer’s disease.”

If you have a family history of AD, or if you’re experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline, talk to your doctor about sage, lemon balm, and the key nutritional needs that might help delay or alleviate the onset of AD.

“Scientists Want to Find Alzheimer’s Before a Mind Fails” Denise Grady, The New York Times, 12/26/07,
“Poor Nutrient Intakes During 1-Year Follow-Up with Community-Dwelling Older Adults with Early-Stage Alzheimer Dementia Compared to Cognitively Intact Matched Controls” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 107, No. 12, December 2007,