Preventing Dementia with Salmon, Gardening and Sugar-Free Soda

Research in the field of dementia prevention and treatment is widespread, as people are living longer and thus developing dementia at a higher rate. Three recently published studies point to the importance of diet and exercise in the development of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, the two most common types seen in aging individuals.

Fish oil, exercise, and sugar-free soda may be the ticket to making it into old age with your memory and cognition in tact. University of California at Los Angeles researchers demonstrated that fish oil supplementation increased production of the protein LR11 in cultured human and rat neural cells and in live rats. LR11 activity is associated with decreased levels of beta-amyloid plaques, the histological hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, and is found at lower levels in Alzheimer’s patients.

Fish oil consumption is part of the much-touted Mediterranean diet and is linked in numerous clinical studies to health and longevity. This new study gives molecular evidence of its promising effects on Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment.

An Italian study of 749 elderly men and women found moderate physical exercise to be linked with a decreased risk of vascular dementia. Patients who were the most physically active reduced their risk by 24 percent. What’s important about this study is that the activity that was followed was mild to moderate — including things like yard work, house cleaning, gardening and walking. So its not necessary to be a tri-athlete; benefits are seen with simple activities that many of use could easily work into our daily routine.

Perhaps the most interesting finding is that a diet with high levels of sugar water resulted in decreased learning and memory abilities and increased deposition of amyloid plaques in mice, demonstrated by researchers at the University of Alabama. Whether the harmful brain effects were due directly to the high sugar intake or to the effects of a high sugar diet (weight gain, elevated cholesterol, and insulin resistance) is unknown. Nonetheless, this one of the first trials to link a specific nutrient — one that is consumed in abundance in the American diet — with the signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

So what does all this mean? Diet and exercise have profound effects on our entire body, both in the immediate and long term sense. Following a healthy diet including omega-3 rich foods (found in fish oil), exercising and skipping the sugary sodas make me feel better and look better now. And if my chances of developing dementia can be decreased, even a little, by eating salmon, keeping my house clean and skipping the cola, you better believe I’m going to do it.


Qiu-Lan M, Teter B et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Docosahexaenoic Acid Increases SorLA/LR11, a Sorting Protein with Reduced Expression in Sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease (AD): Relevance to AD Prevention. J. Neurosci., Dec 2007; 27: 14299 – 14307.

G. Ravaglia, P. Forti et al. Physical activity and dementia risk in the elderly. Findings from a prospective Italian study. Neurology, first published on December 19, 2007 as doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000296276.50595.86.

Dongfeng Cao, Hailin Lu et al. Intake of Sucrose-sweetened Water Induces Insulin Resistance and Exacerbates Memory Deficits and Amyloidosis in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Alzheimer Disease. J. Biol. Chem., Dec 2007; 282: 36275 – 36282.

Lindsey Kay, MD

Lindsey Kay, MD, is a medical doctor with training in pathology, and an avid writer. During his training, he worked on pre-clinical and clinical trials in a variety of laboratories related to alcohol effects on the brain, cancer diagnosis, and alternative medicine.
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