By John Salak –
Yet another reason to lay off highly-processed foods, especially for those getting on in years. Researchers at The Ohio State University found that a steady diet of these items may lead to severe inflammation in the brain that might foster memory loss. The study, which focused on rats and provided them with meals that mimicked ready-to-eat human foods like deli meats, frozen pizzas, and pastas, discovered that the older the animal, the more severe the brain inflammation.
If the Ohio State results weren’t alarming by themselves, the researchers noted that chowing down on highly processed diets is also associated with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Making matters worse still, the potential harm these foods have on older brains isn’t just significant, the university discovered it’s rapid. “The fact we’re seeing these effects so quickly is a little bit alarming,” said Ruth Barrientos, the study’s senior author and an associate professor at The Ohio State University.
“These findings indicate that consumption of a processed diet can produce significant and abrupt memory deficits—and in the aging population, rapid memory decline has a greater likelihood of progressing into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. By being aware of this, maybe we can limit processed foods in our diets and increase consumption of foods that are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to either prevent or slow that progression.”
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is present in fish and other seafood. It has the general ability to help fend off an inflammatory response. The Ohio State University team took DHA’s capabilities further by studying its ability to ward off brain inflammation brought on by a processed diet.
The researchers found that adding DHA supplements to highly processed diets had a positive impact on controlling inflammation in older and younger rats. Barrientos was quick to warn that her findings should not encourage consumers to gorge on processed food so long as they take a DHA supplement.
“These are the types of diets that are advertised as being low in fat, but they’re highly processed. They have no fiber and have refined carbohydrates that are also known as low-quality carbohydrates,” she said. “Folks who are used to looking at nutritional information need to pay attention to the fiber and quality of carbohydrates. This study really shows those things are important.”
The Omega-3 fatty acid is, nonetheless, an important component of a healthy diet for young and old. Japanese researchers now add that Amino LP7—a supplement containing seven specific amino acids—may be also able to slow down brain degeneration and dementia development. This is no small consideration since 10 million people develop dementia every year, according to the World Health Organization.
The Japanese scientists came to their conclusions by studying how low-protein diets accelerate brain degeneration in mouse models and whether various amino acid supplements can slow the process. “In older individuals, low protein diets are linked to poor maintenance of brain function. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. So, we wanted to understand whether supplementation with essential amino acids can protect the brains of older people from dementia, and if yes, what mechanisms would contribute to this protective effect,” explained Dr. Makoto Higuchi, a lead scientist on the project and a member of the National Institutes for Quantum Sciences and Technology.
The Japanese researchers found that mice consuming a low protein diet not only showed accelerated brain degeneration but also had signs of poor neuronal connectivity. More importantly, these problems were reversed after supplements of Amino LP7 were consumed. “Tau plaques in the brain are characteristic of Alzheimer’s and most treatments target them. However, we have shown that it is possible to overcome this Tau deposition and prevent brain atrophy via supplementation with Amino LP7,” reported the study’s leader, Dr. Akihiko Kitamura.
Admittedly, related tests and research have yet to be conducted on people. But Dr. Hideaki Sato and Dr. Yuhei Takado, who both contributed to the study, underscored that their work could be a key to helping individuals with dementia. “Although our study was performed in mice, it brings hope that amino acid intake could also modify the development of dementia in humans, including Alzheimer’s disease,” they added in a joint statement.