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Diet may play key role in delaying
Alzheimer's among women ,
avoiding midlife obesity
could lower Alzheimer's risk, studies find
July 19, 2004--Eating vegetables like
broccoli and spinach may help older women retain some memory
abilities later on, while avoiding obesity in middle age lowers the
risk of later Alzheimer’s disease in both sexes, new studies
The work mirrors prior evidence that people may help keep their
brains healthy by following standard health advice, including things
like staying active and keeping cholesterol, blood sugar and blood
pressure under control.
In fact, one of the new studies found
evidence that obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure in
middle age each added substantially to the risk of developing
Alzheimer’s or other dementia later on. Each problem roughly
doubled the risk, and study participants with all three traits ran
six times the risk of somebody without any of them, said researcher
Dr. Miia Kivipelto of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Lifestyle changes can reduce
Kivipelto said the findings are encouraging because they suggest
that lifestyle changes can help many people reduce their risk of
dementia. She spoke in a telephone interview before presenting the
work Monday in Philadelphia at the Ninth International Conference on
Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders.
Her study included 1,449 Finns whose
body-mass index, which signals obesity, was calculated when they
were around 50 years old. When examined an average of 21 years
later, 61 had developed dementia, mostly Alzheimer’s. Results
showed the risk of any dementia or Alzheimer’s in particular
roughly doubled with a BMI of more than 30 (considered obese),
cholesterol of more than 250 or a blood pressure reading in which
one of the numbers exceeded 140.
The effect appeared in both sexes, though
the obesity factor was slightly stronger in women, Kivipelto said.
The findings make sense, commented Deborah
Gustafson of the Medical College of Wisconsin. Gustafson had
reported evidence that women who are overweight in their 70s had an
increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s, while the new work extends
the finding back into middle age, she noted.
Benefits of green leafy
The other new study found that women in their 60s who habitually ate
more cruciferous and green leafy vegetables than other women went on
to show less overall decline on a bundle of tests measuring memory,
verbal ability and attention when they were in their 70s. Such foods
include broccoli, cauliflower, romaine lettuce and spinach.
The federally funded study didn’t include
men, but the effect would probably appear in them too, said Jae Hee
Kang, an instructor at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in
Boston who presented the work. She stressed that the findings need
to be confirmed by further studies.
Drug delays onset of Alzheimer's
Researchers focused on drop-offs in
abilities like remembering word lists after 15 minutes, naming as
many animals as possible in one minute, and reciting a list of
numbers backward. A pronounced decline may foreshadow Alzheimer’s.
Kang and colleagues studied 13,388 nurses
participating in a long-running health study. They compared the
participants’ questionnaires on long-term eating habits over a
span of 10 years, when they were in their 60s, to their performance
in two test sessions when they were in their 70s. Researchers noted
how much the scores declined in the two years between sessions.
While most women in the study showed some
decline, those who had habitually eaten the most cruciferous and
green leafy vegetables showed less decline than those who ate the
least, Kang said.
“It was almost like they were younger by
one or two years in terms of their cognitive declining,” Kang said
in a telephone interview.
The contrasts appeared between those who
ate about eight servings versus three servings of green leafy
vegetables a week, and those who ate about five servings versus two
servings of cruciferous vegetables a week.
The effect of the vegetables probably comes
from the antioxidants and B vitamins they contain, Kang said.