Category Archives: Alzheimer’s

The Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has received a lot of press recently, after a Florida doctor claimed that she reversed her husband’s Alzheimer’s disease using four teaspoons of coconut oil daily.

Dr Mary Newport gave her husband Steve four teaspoons of coconut oil each day, and saw dramatic improvements in his Alzheimer’s symptoms in just two weeks. “He began to get his short-term memory back,” says Dr Newport. “His depression lifted, he became more like his old self. The problem he’d had with walking improved. An MRI scan showed his brain had stopped shrinking.”

She has since been gathering testimonials from others who have followed her example. “I do have a collection now of almost 220 reports, mostly from caregivers and some from the person themselves, reporting that they saw improvement after they started taking coconut oil” she reports.

The brain is fuelled by glucose. It appears that in Alzheimer’s patients, the brain has problems processing insulin, leading Alzheimer’s to be labelled ‘Type 3 diabetes’ or diabetes of the brain (1).

Dr Newport believes that coconut oil heals Alzheimer’s by enabling the brain to use an alternative fuel source, ketones, which are created in the body after consuming coconut oil.

Larger studies are needed to determine whether coconut oil offers hope to Alzheimer’s sufferers. In the meantime, Dr Newport provides access to her research to date on her website.

Coconut oil is thought to have a number of other health benefits, as a result of the unique properties of its fats. Coconut oil is a source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are digested more easily than other types of fat, and have beneficial effects such as boosting metabolism. The fats in coconut oil are also known to have antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Coconut oil has been linked with reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease

Below are five key health benefits attributed to this unique oil.

1. As the gallbladder is not needed to emulsify the fats in coconut oil, this oil is a good choice of fat for those who have had their gallbladder removed, or those who have problems digesting fats.

2. Oils such as vegetable oil and sunflower oil can get damaged during heating, leading to the production of trans fats. Coconut oil on the other hand is ideal for cooking as it is a heat-stable saturated fat.

3. Coconut oil in the diet does not raise cholesterol levels, and has been linked to a decrease in abdominal fat (2).

4. Coconut oil has antifungal properties, and has been found to kill Candida albicans, the most problematic of the candida species (3, 4).

5. Coconut oil has natural emollient and antibacterial effects when applied directly to the skin. Studies have suggested benefits for those with eczema and acne (5,6).

My view is that those who don’t consume coconut often would benefit from adding a little fresh coconut or good quality (unhydrogenated) coconut oil to their diet. For those who would like to try adding coconut oil to their diet, mixing a teaspoon of coconut oil into your morning oatmeal is a simple way to do this. Coconut oil can also be used as a spread in place of butter or margarine. Finally, coconut oil is ideal for cooking as it is stable when heated, making it perfect for baking and stir-fries.


1. Accardi G et al (2012) Can Alzheimer disease be a form of type 3 diabetes? Rejuvenation Res Apr;15(2):217-21

2. Assuncao et al (2009) Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids. Jul;44(7):593-601.

3. Ogblu DO et al (2007) In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria. Jun;10(2):384-7.

4.Agarwal V et al (2008) Prevention of Candida albicans biofilm by plant oils. Mycopathologia. January, Volume 165, Issue 1, pp 13-19

5. Verallo-Rowell et al (2008) Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis. Dermatitis.  Nov-Dec;19(6):308-15.

6. Nakatsuii T et al (2009) Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris. J Invest Dermatol 129(10):2480-8. 


More evidence points toward the importance of vitamin B12 to protect against Alzheimer’s disease

In November  I mentioned a study which found that supplemental B vitamins which lowered homocysteine levels in the body might be useful to help elderly individuals with mild cognitive [mental function] impairment.  A recent study (1) has found that Vitamin B12 may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.  The results of the research suggests that elderly individuals with more of the active part of the vitamin B12 in their blood have a lower risk of developing the disease.  However, the findings don’t necessarily mean that taking B vitamin supplements will stave off mental decline.

To recap on homocysteine:

Homocysteine is produced when the amino acid (the building blocks of protein) methionine is broken down in the body.  Normal levels of homocysteine are important to help build and maintain body tissues, however elevated concentrations in the blood can be harmful and have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and other disorders.  At normal levels homocystein can be converted in the body into a harmless substance called cystanthionine.  The conversion of homocysteine into this harmless substance depends upon various B vitamins  (B6, B12 and folic acid).  Having good levels of these B vitamins appears to be a very good way of preventing high homocysteine levels and low levels of B vitamins have been associated with raised homocysteine levels. 

The study (1)was set up in order to examine the relationship between blood serum levels of homocysteine and holotranscobalamin (holoTC), the active part of vitamin B12, and risk of incident Alzheimer disease in a sample of community-dwelling elderly.  The research involved over 250 individuals aged between 65 and 79 years old who were free of dementia.  The participants were followed-up for seven years and any cases of Alzheimer’s disease were recorded.   The study scientists then looked to see if there was any association between the serum homocysteine levels, Vitamin B12 levels and Alzheimer’s disease.  The study found that for each micromolar (1 µmol/L) increase in the concentration of homocysteine, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease increased by 16%, whereas each picomolar (1 pmol/L) increase in concentration of the active form of vitamin B12 reduced risk by 2%. The results stayed the same after taking into account other factors, such as age, gender, education, smoking status, blood pressure, stroke and body mass index. The addition of folate did not appear to raise or lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  From the results the authors conclude “This study suggests that both tHcy [homocysteine] and holoTC [vitamin B12] may be involved in the development of AD [Alzheimer’s disease]. The tHcy–AD link may be partly explained by serum holoTC. The role of holoTC in AD should be further investigated(1)

In a press release Babak Hooshmand, one of the study scientists, said (2) “Our findings show the need for further research on the role of vitamin B12 as a marker for identifying people who are at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” “Low levels of vitamin B12 are surprisingly common in the elderly. However, the few studies that have investigated the usefulness of vitamin B12 supplements to reduce the risk of memory loss have had mixed results.


The findings of this trial are very interesting but further large-scale research is needed in order to test whether  vitamin B12 supplements can be recommended as a suitable treatment for the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia.   Dr Hooshmand said in the press release “More research is needed to confirm these findings before vitamin B12 should be used solely as a supplement to help protect memory,”

Vitamin B12 is found mainly in meat, fish and poultry.  Eggs and cheese also contain B12 as does brewer’s yeast.  Many vegetarians and vegans have very low intakes of this vital nutrient and may wish to consider a multi-B vitamin supplement.  Folic acid is found in beans, green vegetables and wholegrains.  Vitamin B6 is found in foods like potatoes, bananas, beans and chickpeas, avocados, fish and poultry.  Supplements should never be seen as an alternative to a healthy diet.  If you wish to investigate the option of taking B vitamins it is best to discuss this with your medical doctor first.   


(1) B. Hooshmand B et al.  2010.  Homocysteine and holotranscobalamin and the risk of Alzheimer disease.  A longitudinal study.   NEUROLOGY 2010;75:1408-1414

(2) Press Release.  American Academy of Neurology (2010, October 19). Vitamin B12 may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 6, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/10/101018162922.htm



Written By Ani Kowal



Brain function may be protected by walking

A study (1) has found that walking at least six miles (cumulatively) a week may help protect elderly individuals from age-related ‘brain shrinkage’ (loss of brain grey matter).  In May last year I wrote about a study which found that walking might help protect women against strokes and I have previously written about the importance of exercise in protecting the brain during ageing  


As we age brain size begins to shrink and this may lead to memory problems, or cognition (brain function) issues and could be related to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  The current study included almost 300 individuals who were asked to keep track of how far they walked each week.  After 9 years the researchers scanned the brains of the participants in order to measure brain volume.  After another 4 years (13 years total) the participants were tested for cognitive impairment or dementia.


The results showed that those people who walked at least six miles weekly had less age related brain shrinkage compared to those who walked less than six miles a week.  Greater physical activity predicted greater brain volumes.  Those who walked around six to nine miles a week halved their risk of developing memory problems.  The authors of the study conclude that “Greater amounts of walking are associated with greater gray matter volume, which is in turn associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment

The study paves the way for further research in the area of physical activity for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease prevention.  Any efforts to help reduce the risks of such conditions would be well received.  Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease which affects more than 26 million people globally.

Walking is something that can be incorporated into daily life with minimal planning and effort.  If you rarely walk then beginning with just 15minutes a day is a great start.  If you find that your motivation wanes then perhaps you could see if a friend is interested in walking with you once or twice a week.  A short walk during your lunch-break at work might also help you feel refreshed for the afternoon.  Getting off the bus a stop early or parking at the furthest end if that car-park are also ways to clock up the miles.  

(1)Erickson KI et al.  2010.  Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood.  The Cardiovascular Health Study.  Neurology.  75:1415-1422

Written by Ani Kowal


DHA supplementation may protect the ageing brain

 Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a long chain omega 3 fatty acid naturally found in oily fish such as mackerel, trout, sardines and salmon.  The brain contains a high proportion of DHA and, as you will see from my past blog posts, omega 3 fats have been linked to brain benefits including protection from depression and dementia and better mental function, or cognition.  It is known that DHA plays an important role in neural function and that decreases in blood plasma levels of DHA are associated with cognitive decline in  healthy elderly adults and in those with Alzheimer’s disease.  Until now there has been very little investigation into the potential benefits of DHA supplementation in age-related cognitive decline.

A recently study (1) published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association has found that taking DHA supplements in older age may improve memory and learning (improve cognition) in those individuals with mild cognitive impairments.  The study was a well designed randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study which looked to evaluate the effects of DHA supplementation on cognitive function in healthy older adults with mild age-related cognitive decline.  The study included over 450 individuals aged 55 or over, they received either 900mg of DHA daily or a placebo supplement for 24weeks.  Various tests were used to evaluate cognitive function. 


The researchers found that after 24weeks those individuals given the DHA had better cognitive function test scores compared to those taking the placebo and DHA supplementation was also associated with improved immediate and delayed Verbal Recognition Memory scores.  In the supplemented group the blood plasma DHA levels doubled and were correlated with improved test scores. DHA was well tolerated with no reported treatment-related serious adverse events.  The authors of the study conclude that “Twenty-four week supplementation with 900 mg/d DHA improved learning and memory function in ARCD [age-related cognitive decline] and is a beneficial supplement that supports cognitive health with aging

In a press release (2) Duffy MacKay, N.D., vice president, scientific & regulatory affairs, for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) said “The results of this study are very encouraging for those consumers concerned about maintaining memory. We know that lower DHA levels are associated with cognitive decline in healthy elderly and Alzheimer’s patients, and higher DHA levels help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” “Memory loss, dementia and the development of Alzheimer’s disease are prominent health concerns for older individuals. The more we learn about the valuable role DHA plays in supporting brain function, the more options aging Americans have towards managing cognitive decline.”

The findings of this study show how important early intervention with omega 3 supplements is.  This study (1) found that DHA supplementation was beneficial to the population being tested who were suffering with mild age-related cognitive decline but who were free of Alzheimer’s disease.  Another recent study (3) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was conducted with individuals who were diagnosed with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.  In this study DHA supplementation did not provide a statistically significant benefit to cognitive function.  The authors of the JAMA study write “In summary, these results indicate that DHA supplementation is not useful for the population of individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease,” but also add that “it remains possible that an intervention with DHA might be more effective if initiated earlier in the course of the disease in patients who do not have overt dementia.” 

In the study mentioned earlier (1) it was found that DHA was useful as an early intervention in order to PREVENT cognitive decline.  In a press release Dr MacKay said “This study reinforces the principle that consumers will reap the most benefit from their DHA supplements — and many supplements — when they are taken over time and before a health concern is imminent,” “When included as a part of a proactive health regimen that includes a well-balanced diet, regular physical activity and routine visits with a healthcare professional, dietary supplements offer an important tool to help support many systems in the body, including memory and cognitive function.

If you feel you would like to take omega 3 fish oil supplements then it is always best to check with your medical doctor first but they may well be worth considering, especially if you do not eat at least two portions of oily fish weekly.  Omega 3 fatty acids are important for the health of the brain, heart and circulatory system and have many other health benefits in addition.

(1)Yurko-Mauro K et al. Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  6 (6): 456 DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2010.01.013

(2)Press release.  Council for Responsible Nutrition (2010, November 8). DHA improves memory and cognitive function in older adults, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/11/101108151346.htm

(3) Quinn JF, et al. Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation and Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer Disease: A Randomized Trial. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association.  304 (17):1903

Written by Ani Kowal


Research study examines ways to prevent dementia

Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease  and depression are all topics that I have written about frequently.  I am highly interested in the ways that nutrition and lifestyle can impact the risk of developing such conditions and how, potentially, diet and lifestyle may be used in prevention strategies.  In particular I have concentrated on Omega 3 fats and depression and the importance of omega 3 fatty acids for health in general.  

A recent study has been published in the British Journal of Medicine (1,2) which has found that eliminating diabetes and depression, as well as increasing education and fruit and vegetable consumption, are likely to have the biggest impact on reducing levels of dementia in the coming years, should no effective treatment be found.

Multiple potentially modifiable clinical and environmental risk factors for dementia have been identified from previous studies e.g. heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol, a history of depression, diet, alcohol consumption, and education level.  Based on this knowledge the researchers of this study estimated which of risk factors might be most effective in reducing the future burden of dementia (1,2).

The study included over 1,400 healthy individuals aged over 65 years old who were living in the south of France and recruited between 1999 and 2001.  The study participants were evaluated with cognitive testing at the start of the study and again at two, four and seven years. A specific reading test (known as the Neale score) was also used as an indicator of lifetime intelligence.  Other data was also obtained such as medical history, height, weight, education level, monthly income, mobility, dietary habits, alcohol consumption, and tobacco use. The individual’s genetic risk of dementia was also measured, this measure is obviously not a factor that can be changed however, it serves as a useful benchmark for dementia risk (1,2).

Analysis of the data revealed that eliminating depression and diabetes and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption were estimated to lead to an overall 21% reduction in new cases of dementia, with depression making the greatest contribution (just over 10%).  The researchers point out that this is just an association and the direct, causal, relationship between depression and dementia remains unclear.  Further studies would be needed to draw more definite conclusions.  It was also found that increasing education could lead to an estimated 18% reduction in new cases of dementia across the general population over seven years. By contrast, eliminating the foremost known genetic risk factor from the general population would lead only to a 7% reduction in the number of new cases over the next seven years (1,2).

After elucidating these findings the study researchers suggest that public health initiatives could aim to focus on:

*Encouraging literacy at all ages irrespective of ability,

*Prompt treatment of depressive symptoms,

*Early screening for glucose intolerance and insulin resistance (early stages in the development of diabetes). 

The researchers conclude that “In the face of a pandemic of dementia, with predicted increases of 100% in developed countries between 2001 and 2020, and of 300% in China, India, and neighbouring south Asian and western Pacific countries, even small reductions in incidence, or delaying the age of onset, are likely to have significant effects on prevalence and the enormous associated public health burden”.  “Increasing crystallised intelligence and fruit and vegetable consumption and eliminating depression and diabetes are likely to have the biggest impact on reducing the incidence of dementia, outweighing even the effect of removing the principal known genetic risk factor. Although causal relations cannot be concluded with certainty, the study suggests priorities that may inform public health programmes”.  They also call for further studies to include younger adults in order to test the impact of intervention measures.

Studies in the past have found that depression and diabetes risk might be modifiable through diet and lifestyle efforts.  As I was getting ready to put this post up another study (3) caught my attention, this time it was a Japanese association study which found that “A healthy Japanese dietary pattern characterized by high intakes of vegetables, fruit, mushrooms and soy products was associated with fewer depressive symptoms”.  The study is just another illustration of the potential impact that a healthy diet may have on mental health.

(1)K Ritchie et al. Research Designing prevention programmes to reduce incidence of dementia: prospective cohort study of modifiable risk factors. BMJ, 2010;341:c3885 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c3885

(2)Press release:BMJ-British Medical Journal (2010, August 5). Eliminating diabetes and depression, and boosting education, most likely to ward off dementia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 6, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/08/100805204003.htm

(3) Nanri A et al.  2010.  Dietary patterns and depressive symptoms among Japanese men and women.   European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  64:  832–839; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2010.86;



Written by Ani Kowal


Blood levels of vitamin E seem to be linked to risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

A study (1) in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has found that high blood levels of various forms of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease in later life (in those aged 80 or over).

Vitamin E is actually a group of eight compounds called tocopherols and tocotrienols.  What most people call Vitamin E is actually just one form, alpha-tocopherol.  Vitamin E acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body, protecting it from damage by free radicals (destructive unstable molecules). 

In the study (1) researchers investigated the associations between blood plasma levels of eight forms of vitamin E and Alzheimer’s disease among older individuals.  Over 200 individuals, aged 80 or over, who were dementia free at the start of the study were followed for 6 years.  Their blood levels of the 8 forms of vitamin E  (α-, β-, γ, and δ-tocopherol; α-, β-, γ-, and δ-tocotrienol) were measured at the start of the study and over the six years 57 cases of Alzheimer’s disease were identified.  The researchers found that individuals with the highest levels of total tocopherols, total tocotrienols, or total vitamin E had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to individuals with the lowest levels.  After adjusting for various confounders, the risk was reduced by 45-54%, depending on the vitamin E component.

The study shows an association between blood levels of vitamin E compounds and Alzheimer’s disease risk but does not prove that low levels cause the disease.  The results are, however, significant – previous studies with vitamin E and Alzheimer’s disease have been mixed, this could be, in part, due to their use of only one form of the vitamin rather than the combined forms.  The authors of this study write (1)  “In conclusion, high plasma levels of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk of AD [Alzheimer’s disease] in advanced age. The neuroprotective effect of vitamin E seems to be related to the combination of different forms, rather than to α-tocopherol alone, whose efficacy in interventions against AD is currently debated”.

In a press release (2) the lead study author, Dr Francesca Mangialasche said “Vitamin E is a family of eight natural components, but most studies related to Alzheimer’s disease investigate only one of these components” “We hypothesized that all the vitamin E family members could be important in protecting against AD. If confirmed, this result has implications for both individuals and society, as 70 percent of all dementia cases in the general population occur in people over 75 years of age, and the study suggests a protective effect of vitamin E against AD in individuals aged 80+.

It is important not to self-prescribe high dose vitamin E supplements since studies have linked high dose alpha-tocopherol Vitamin E supplements to several side-effects.  It is always best to check with your medical doctor prior to taking supplements.  Dr Mangialasche commented (2) on the fact that the mix of vitamin E components may be important  “Elderly people as a group are large consumers of vitamin E supplements, which usually contain only ±-tocopherol, and this often at high doses,” “Our findings need to be confirmed by other studies, but they open up for the possibility that the balanced presence of different vitamin E forms can have an important neuroprotective effect.”

Another study (3) has also recently been published which found that “Higher intake of foods rich in vitamin E may modestly reduce long-term risk of dementia and AD [Alzheimer’s disease]”.  The study was conducted in order to track the consumption of major dietary antioxidants and see how that related to long-term risk of dementia.  Over 5300 individuals who were 55 years or older and free of dementia were included in the study and were followed for around 9 years.  Dietary intakes of  vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, and flavonoids incidence of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease were tracked.  Over the course of 9 years dementia developed in 465 participants, of whom 365 were diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease.  After adjustment for potential confounding factors (including age, education, apolipoprotein E 4 genotype, total energy intake, alcohol intake, smoking habits, body mass index, and supplement use) a higher intake of vitamin E at the start of the study was associated with lower long-term risk of dementia.  Compared with participants with the lowest intakes vitamin E, those with the highest intakes were 25% less likely to develop dementia.  Results were similar when risk for Alzheimer’s disease was specifically assessed.  The one-third of study participants with the highest vitamin E consumption typically got around 18.5mg per day.

As mentioned earlier vitamin E is an antioxidant, it protects against oxidative stress which is thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  The brain is a site of high metabolic activity, which makes it vulnerable to oxidative damage, and slow accumulation of such damage over a lifetime may contribute to the development of dementia (3,4).   Again, this study (3) does not prove that vitamin E protects against the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  It simply provides a few clues that need further, more detailed, investigation.  The authors of this study note that further studies are necessary to evaluate the links between the dietary intake of antioxidants and risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s disease is a complex condition with many possible contributing factors.  Studies with diet and antioxidant supplements have been conflicting and it may be that consumption at different points in life has different effects on risk (3,4).   

Food sources of vitamin E include wheat germ, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils and some green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli.  Taking high dose vitamin E supplements is not recommended.  Eating a healthful, balanced diet and keeping active is a great step toward maintaining good health.  Future research into the area of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is bound to elucidate further, more detailed intervention ideas and I look forward to seeing further published studies. 

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease please visit the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and the Alzheimer’s society

(1) Mangialasche F et al.  2010.  High plasma levels of vitamin E forms and reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk in advanced age. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.  20:1029-1037.  DOI: 10.3233/JAD-2010-091450

(2)Press Release.  Karolinska Institutet (2010, July 7). High blood levels of vitamin E reduces risk of Alzheimer’s, Swedish study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/07/100707102439.htm

(3) Elizabeth E. Devore EE et al.  2010.  Dietary Antioxidants and Long-term Risk of Dementia.  Arch Neurol.  67(7):819-825. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2010.144

(4)Press release.  JAMA and Archives Journals (2010, July 13). Eating foods rich in vitamin E associated with lower dementia risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/07/100712162556.htm

Written by Ani Kowal


Exercise and a healthy Mediterranean-style diet may protect against Alzheimer’s disease

Previously I have written about the health benefits of following a Mediterranean diet and I was very interested to read a study (1) that has just been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  The study also found that physical activity was associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease (independent of diet).  Adhering to a Mediterranean diet and having a good level of physical activity further reduced the risk of developing this disease.

This research adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests that lifestyle can have a significant impact on health, which certainly seems very logical to me!

A traditional Mediterranean diet is abundant in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes/beans, fish (especially oily fish), healthy fats and wholegrains.  It is generally low in processed foods, dairy products, red meats, and saturated fats.  In the past research has been conducted on Mediterranean diet and Alzheimer’s disease as well as physical activity and risk for Alzheimer’s.  This is the first study (1) to investigate the combined effects of diet and physical activity on risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors of the study(1) used data from 1880 elderly residents, who had an average age of 77, living in New York.  None of the participants had Alzheimer’s disease or dementia at the start of the study which ran from 1992 to 2006.  At the start of the study diet and level of physical activity were assessed and scored.  Physical activity was scored as vigorous (e.g. jogging), moderate (e.g. hiking or cycling) and light (e.g. golfing or gardenting).  For diet the participants were given a score from 0-9 depending on how close to a Mediterranean diet their diet was.  These scores were then grouped into low, middle or high adherence to a Mediterranean diet.  Over the course of the study, about every 18 months, participants underwent neurological and neuropsychological tests.

*  A total of 282 cases of Alzheimer’s disease were diagnosed over the course of the study.
*  The most physically active participants had a 33% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease when compared to participants who were the least physically active
*  Those who most closely followed a Meditteranean diet have a 40% reduction in the risk for Alzheimer’s compared to participants who adhered the least.
*  Those who had the highest level of physical activity and whose diet was closest to the Mediterranean diet had a 60% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s when compared to those who did not exercise and did not follow a Mediterranean-style diet.

It was also noted that even a low level of physical activity did seem to have a protective effect which is important since it suggests that making even small changes can be beneficial.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research, at the Alzheimer’s Society said in a Press Release (2) about the study:

‘Dementia is one of people’s biggest fears in later life but very few people realise that there are things they can do to reduce their risk of developing this devastating condition. This study adds to the growing body of evidence that a healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce the chance of developing dementia.

‘A Mediterranean diet full of green leafy vegetables, oily fish, nuts and low in saturated fats is an incredibly healthy approach to eating and may reduce your risk of developing dementia. This study suggests combining this diet with regular exercise is one of the best ways to cut your chances of developing dementia.’

‘With one million people set to develop dementia in the next 10 years, it is essential that we act now to defeat it.’


The study was not a clinical trial, it was an observational study and cannot prove the link between following a Mediterranean diet and being physically active and the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  However, it does point toward a strong association and provides us with indications of the importance of following a healthy eating regimen an including exercise into our lifestyles.  There are many components in the Mediterranean diet which may be protecting the brain including omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish and numerous antioxidant vitamins and flavonoids (bioactive plant chemicals) from vegetables and fruits.  As well as minerals.  No doubt all these components act together synergistically to reduce overall risk of Alzheimer’s and help to keep our brain healthy and functioning efficiently.  The key message seems to be to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

For those of you who do not eat oil fish regularly (at least twice per week) you may want to consider taking a daily fish oil supplement in order to provide omega 3 fatty acids to the body (a supplement to provide around 250-350mg of EPA and 250-350mg DHA), for vegetarians and vegans flaxseed oil can provide the shorter chain omega 3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, (a supplement providing 1000mg alpha-linolenic acid daily can be considered).  Vegetarian EPA and DHA supplements produced from algae are also becoming increasingly available.  In addition to the omega 3 fats, if you feel your diet consistently falls short of vegetables and fruits you may wish to consider taking a food-state multi-vitamin and mineral supplement which tends to provide bioflavonoids in addition to the nutrients.

(1)Scarmeas N et al.  2009.   Physical Activity, Diet, and Risk of Alzheimer Disease.  JAMA. 2009;302(6):627-637.
(2) Press Release: Alzheimer’s Society comment on Mediterranean-type diet reducing Alzheimer’s risk
Written by Ani Kowal