Alzheimer’s disease diet

Preventing Alzheimer’s via food

Photography: Shutterstock

Alzheimer’s disease is a very dramatic affliction, both for patients and people around them. As yet, there is no medicine that can prevent the disease or effectively combat it. One possible key to an effective medicine lies in our food, specifically in how our bodies absorb fat. Researcher Jurriaan Mes of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is searching for a breakthrough on the basis of new insights that have recently come to light.

WHY THIS RESEARCH?

There are theories that imply a connection between Alzheimer’s disease and the way in which our bodies process fats. This may create an opportunity for developing a treatment.

IMPACT

Discovering the connection between fat intake in our bodies and the likelihood of Alzheimer’s could eventually lead to food products that help to prevent or retard the development of the disease.

“Studies have shown that people with a certain gene mutation are 15 times more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease,” Mes says. “That gene is related to fat metabolism, and the mutation interrupts the process. When we eat fat, our intestines process it into tiny balls, which first enter the lymph system and then our blood vessels. We think that those little balls of fat play an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s and we want to examine what the precise relationship between the two is.”

‘I would like to understand the importance of bad cholesterol and be able to select products that lower the risk’

“If we can discover the link between these specific balls of fat and the risk for Alzheimer’s, we can reduce the chance of people getting the disease. We already have the theoretical model needed to examine this and now we need to implement it in practice. We want to examine the theory by giving people certain fats and measuring how balls of fat develop inside their bodies in the followingn hours. The idea is to test this on a population with a high risk of Alzheimer’s, based on several characteristics, as well as a control group. We think that the balls of fat will differ between the two groups.”

Duration

4 years

Where

the Netherlands

Funds needed

€800,000

Keeping to a healthy diet. Photo: Shutterstock

The study by Mes and his team is still in an early phase. If a relationship can actually be demonstrated between fat absorption and the disease, this would be a first step towards further research. “A number of studies are necessary to prove that balls of fat are efficient alarm bells for Alzheimer’s and get the theory accepted in the field,” Mes says. “For example, we also want to study the relationship in the different stages of the disease. The final goal is to translate the knowledge into food and dietary advice that can prevent or delay the development of Alzheimer’s. That is also the stage at which we could approach the pharmaceutical sector. I hope our new insights can help us formulate strategies analogous to those used to lower cholesterol – foods, diets, physical activity and, in extreme cases, preventive medicines – to reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s.”

One possible key to an effective medicine lies in our food. Photo: Shutterstock

“These risk-preventing strategies should then be disseminated among, accessible to and useable by everyone. That would be my dream if we succeed in proving our hypothesis. I am lucky enough to have few instances of Alzheimer’s in my family, but I know how terrible the impact of the disease on a patient’s life and loved ones is. It is a drastic and inhumane end to life, and I feel that we all have to try to do something about it. I hope that, together with one or more philanthropic partners, we can reach a breakthrough in how food can contribute to prevention. We could bundle all of our knowledge in the areas of food and health in this research in order to find practical applications. It is precisely this food-based approach and the search for practical measures that makes this a study in line with established WUR practice. We would be developing the results of fundamental research into solutions for human and social problems and it would be tremendous if we could also do this for a disease like Alzheimer’s.”

DR JURRIAAN MES

Position

Expertise leader Food Quality and Analysis, Wageningen University & Research

Expertise

Biomarkers, Cell biology, Food sciences, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Nutrition and health, Transcriptomics, Food quality, Defence mechanisms, Digestion, Vegetable proteins, Intestinal diseases, Intestinal physiology, Protein metabolism

Photo: Gea Hogeveen

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