01.03.2018 Nutrition

High protein diet lowers Alzheimer’s risk

In world-first research a diet high in protein has been found to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at Perth’s Edith Cowan University made the discovery after examining the diets of 541 people and measuring the levels of amyloid beta (Aβ) in their brain. Amyloid beta (Aβ) is a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that participants with higher levels of protein in their diet were less likely to have high levels of Aβ in their brain, reducing their risk of developing the disease.

Brain boost

The participants were divided into three groups based on their protein intake.

They found that those with the highest consumption, around 118g per day, were 12 times less likely to have high levels of Aβ than those in the lowest consumption group, who ate only 54g per day.

Lead researcher Dr Binosha Fernando from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences says this is the first study to examine the relationship between protein consumption and Aβ.

“The research clearly demonstrates that the more protein eaten, the lower the chances someone has of having a high Aβ burden on the brain, which corresponds to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the future,” says Dr Fernando.

Looking for a link

Dr Fernando says it is still unknown what is driving the relationship between high protein intake and low Aβ.

“One possibility is that previous studies have shown that a high protein diet is associated with lower blood pressure,” she says

“High blood pressure is a risk factor for both Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease. We also know that developing cardiovascular disease increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Further research will examine what role gender, genetics, age and metabolic factors play in the relationship between protein consumption and Alzheimer’s disease.

Getting enough protein

Protein is found in animal products like beef, pork, lamb, eggs, fish and poultry, as well as in plant-based foods like legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Amount of protein in common foods:

Food

Protein per 100g

Chicken

30g

Beef (steak)

26g

Tuna (Bluefin)

30g

Lentils

10g

Pinto beans

20g

Peanuts

26g

Milk

3.4g

Cheese (cheddar)

25g

*Source: US Department of Agriculture

“To get the protective effect that we have demonstrated, you need to be eating about 120g of protein each day, which isn’t too hard,” says Dr Fernando.

“For example, if you had a mixed bean and tuna salad for lunch, 100g of chicken and salad for dinner and snacked on a handful of peanuts during the day, you would be getting very close to enough protein to lower your chances of having a high Aβ burden in your brain.”

Lifestyle focus

ECU’s Centre for Excellence for Alzheimer’s disease Research and Care has also recently identified depression and trouble sleeping as potential risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

The Centre is also currently investigating if a combination of the spice circumun and fish oil can potentially delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

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