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Plant diet may put brakes on Alzheimer’s decline

US study suggests cutting out animal products and other lifestyle changes could slow progress of disease

Posted : 3 July 2024

A new study has shown that people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s could benefit from a plant-based diet, in conjunction with other lifestyle changes, to slow cognitive decline.

In the US research, a small cohort of Alzheimer’s patients was split into two groups, the first of which carried on with typical care for the disease, while the latter had a plant-based boost. As well as eating zero animal products and having only healthy meals containing fruits, vegetables, legumes and pulses delivered to their door, they were given meditation and yoga classes to reduce stress, access to a nutritionist, mental health support, group activities and daily exercise.

Showing the effects of a healthier diet and lifestyle, at the end of the five-month trial, the cognitive function of those on the plant-based diet had improved and the disease progression had slowed, compared with those in the control group, for whom things had got worse across the board. Not only that, but there was a “significant and beneficial” improvement in the gut biome of those in the vegan group: the researchers found more micro-organisms associated with a decreased risk of the disease and fewer bacteria linked to an increased risk.

Research already suggests there may be a link between red meat and Alzheimer’s, because of a build-up of iron in the brain, while a report in 2021 indicated that eating as little as one slice of bacon a day was associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.

Published in the journal  Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, the study, led by Dr Dean Ornish, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is the first randomised controlled trial to use lifestyle interventions to show cognitive improvement in people with mild cognitive impairment or early dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Ornish told CNN: “There was a statistically significant dose-response relationship between the degree of adherence to our lifestyle changes and the degree of improvement we saw on measures of cognition.” He added a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s could be crushing for patients, who hear from their doctors that things will only get worse for them.

“That’s horrible news and is almost self-fulfilling,” Ornish said. “I’m not about false hope, and I’m not saying that everyone will get better,” he said. “I’m here to empower people with the knowledge that if you do change, there is a reasonably good chance that you may slow the progression of the disease, and often improve it.”

Read the study

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