Alzheimer’s disease affects over 13 million people worldwide. Many of my patients fear this most common form of dementia, and with good reason. The disease is not completely understood, and it is not possible to predict who will fall victim. With treatment costs for Alzheimer’s topping 100 billion dollars in the United States alone, the medical community is eager to unlock the mysteries of this disease.
In my review of recent studies on Alzheimer’s, I found plenty of promising news. A handful of studies show that your eating habits in middle age can have an effect on your Alzheimer’s risk. Some of you may already be consuming the foods that researchers believe can ward off the disease, particularly antioxidant-rich fruits.
Fruit: The Proven Alzheimer’s Foe
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease of the brain. Many scientists believe that plaque build up causes nerve cell damage from oxidative stress. This leads to the decrease in cognitive function that characterizes Alzheimer’s. Fruits contain protective antioxidants called polyphenols that protect the cells from oxidative stress.
A recent study in the Journal of Food Science showed how it works. Researchers treated neuronal cells with extracts from everyday fruits that many of us have in our kitchens, namely apples, bananas and oranges. Then they induced oxidative stress and tested the cells. The cells treated with apple extract were most protected, but bananas and oranges offered excellent benefits as well.
Unpeeled apples with their high antioxidant levels also suppress colon cancer and liver tumor growth. Generally, all fruits and vegetables contain a wide array of antioxidants. Eating a varied selection of fresh produce has long been believed to provide natural protection against disease. Other fruits the researchers found to have high antioxidant activity similar to apples are grapes, cherries and plums.
A separate study uncovered the proven benefits of another superfruit—blueberries. These sweet berries contain flavanols and anthocyanins, antioxidants that appear to improve memory. The researchers believe that these substances strengthen existing neuronal connections and stimulate cell regeneration.
Juice Helps Too
If you are not already eating fresh fruit daily, I hope I’ve convinced you to start. On days when don’t have the opportunity to munch on an apple or peel an orange, juice can provide benefits. A study showed that elderly people who drank fruit or vegetable juice three times per week reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s compared to people who drank juice less than once per week.
Polyphenols that provide the protective effect in whole fruit are also present in all-natural juice. Whole fruits and vegetables are preferable to juice because they provide fiber and help fill you up. Whenever they are not available, however, juice is a good option.
Many of my patients have asked if supplements that contain antioxidants such as vitamins E, C and A, have the same effect as food. Research shows that supplements do not have similar protective effects against Alzheimer’s. It is best to get the benefits of antioxidants from the fruits I mentioned or from fruit juice. I often say that prevention is the best medicine. If eating a diet filled with delicious fresh fruit and vegetables can actually protect us from a serious disease like Alzheimer’s, I am all for it!