Cognitive impairment affects every fifth person older than 70 and it often progresses to dementia and even death in 50% of these people within 5 years. In order to prevent this there are certain things you can do. Even though there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it can be prevented by avoiding the risk factors.
In 2002, scientists have conducted a study that involved 22 Alzheimer’s patients and it was discovered that they had very high concentrations of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is believed to be a very strong risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. If the levels of homocysteine is over 14 µmol/L the risk of this disease doubles.
The Framingham Study found that one in six Alzheimer’s cases may be caused used by the increased homocysteine in the blood.
The human body needs three vitamins to detoxify homocysteine, folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. The initial tests of their effects were disappointing, as supplementation did not seem to work.
Yet, a double-blind randomized controlled trial showed that the reduction of the levels of homocysteine by B vitamins can slow the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in people with mild cognitive impairment.
Aging causes an atrophy of the brain, but this shrinking is accelerated in the case of Alzheimer’s. Therefore, if we manage to slow the rate of brain loss, we might also decelerate the progress of this disease.
After 2 years of regular use, researchers found that B vitamins significantly slowed the rate of brain shrinkage, and reduced the rate of atrophy in those with high homocysteine levels twice.
A follow-up study reported that B-vitamin treatment reduces, by as much as seven-fold, the brain atrophy in the areas prone to the Alzheimer’s disease process.
Moreover, most people consume foods rich in B12 and B6, but they do not get sufficient amounts of folate. Apparently, 96 percent of Americans don’t even get the minimum recommended amount of dark green leafy vegetables.
Therefore, a plant-based diet might solve all these problems, as it will lower homocysteine levels by 20% in just one week, from around 11 mmoles per liter down to 9 mmoles per liter.
According to scientists, this is due to fiber, as every gram of it increases folate levels in the blood nearly 2%, probably by boosting vitamin production in the colon by the friendly gut bacteria, or as a result of the lower methionine intake.
Homocysteine is a breakdown product of methionine, which comes from animal protein. Its lower levels due to such a diet might contribute to the reduction of homocysteine levels as well.
Yet, a plant-based diet is not the only solution, since, for instance, even though vegetarians and vegans are getting more fiber and folate, they lack vitamin B12.
Also, vegans are at a higher risk of for suffering from hyperhomocysteinemia (excessive amounts of homocysteine in the blood) as they do not get the adequate doses of vitamin B12.