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Can Oranges and Spinach prevent Alzheimer’s?

Morgan Levitt

February 22, 2010

        “My father started growing very quiet as Alzheimer's started claiming more of him. The early stages of Alzheimer's are the hardest because the person is aware that they're losing awareness. And I think that's why my father started growing more and more quiet.” Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan’s daughter, described her father’s public battle with Alzheimer’s as helpless (Davis 2002). She portrayed the disease as a thief, robbing its victims not only of memory, but also their sense of self. It changes their clear-cut path in life to a blurry vision of insecurity and confusion. Currently, scientists have found no substantial evidence as to what causes the disease and why it develops; however, research focusing on prevention of the onset shows that consumption of fruits, vegetables, and/or vitamins throughout a person’s lifetime can greatly decrease the chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, AD.

        The U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessments determined that as many as 6.8 million Americans suffer from dementia, the alteration of proper brain function pertaining to memory, reasoning, and/or emotional control (Schoenstadt 2008). Out of those Americans, roughly 50-80 percent of the patients will eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; The Alzheimer’s Association estimates 5.3 million Americans have. Alzheimer’s disease is classified by the abnormal development of protein masses in the brain including tangles, twisted tau fibers, and plaque, beta-amyloid fragments(http://www.alz.org). When these protein deposits form in the brain, slowly, they begin to interfere with neuron communication. As the disease progresses and more plaque and tangles form, the neuron communication continues to decline, destroying brain cells, leading to memory loss, and impaired critical reasoning, until the brain stops functioning all together (http://www.nia.nih.gov). Therefore, AD is sadly considered a fatal neurological degenerate disease.

        Without a cure for Alzheimer’s in site, the focus on prevention has increased drastically over the past twenty years. If scientists can determine the cause of the plaque and tangles in the brain, they can figure out how to prevent the disease. Current research is focusing on the link between the protein formation and free radicals in the body. Free radicals are simply molecules with unpaired electrons, which leaves the molecules in a highly reactive state. In the body, free radicals will react with whatever is around them, in this case necessary molecules such as proteins and blood cells, leaving the other molecules damaged (http://www.freeradicalscience.com). A natural way to combat the damage done by free radicals in the body is to consume antioxidants. Antioxidants act as stabilizers for free radicals by neutralizing them. Antioxidants donate their own electrons to free radicals, ending the need for the free radical to react with essential molecules in the body. Although the antioxidant molecules are left it in an electron deficient state, they are capable of sustaining stability in this form. (http://www.cancer.gov). Therefore, antioxidants can prevent cellular damage from ever occurring.

        Multiple studies have been done to prove whether antioxidants do in fact prevent the formation of plaque and tangles by observing whether or not Alzheimer’s developed in the subjects. One such study is known as The Cache County Study (Zandi, Anthony, Khachaturian 2004). The study's objective was to investigate the possible correlation between the use of antioxidant supplements and onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers did a cross-sectional prospective study of AD by evaluating all county residents over the age of 65 who responded for the prevalence of the disease between 1995 and 1997. At first contact with the residents, they determined whether or not the resident had a history of supplement use, specifically vitamin E and C. From 1998 to 2000 the residents were examined again to determine the incidence rate for the disease. When the study was completed, it was determined that 93 percent of the data provided was viable for assessment. Originally, 4740 participants were examined, and it was noted that 200 cases of AD were already present. By the second examination, 104 more cases appeared. Analysis of these results shows that there was a correlation between the use of vitamin E and C supplements and the onset in AD. It showed that when used in combination with one another, there was a reduced risk in developing the disease. Furthermore, it showed that the use of vitamin E and vitamin C separately did not have an effect on the risk of Alzheimer’s onset (Zandi, Anthony, Khachaturian 2004). The researchers concluded that more studies were required to further analyze the use of antioxidants as the primary treatment for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

        Between 1990 and 1999 another study referred to as The Rotterdam Study was conducted to examine the association between antioxidant consumption via dietary choices and supplement use and Alzheimer’s (Jama 2002). Researchers studied 5395 participants age 55 and over who were determined to be dementia free at the beginning of the study. The participants were then followed over the course of six years and were assessed through “food frequency questionnaires”. After the study concluded, factors such as age, sex, alcohol intake, smoking habits, etc, were taken into account and results were adjusted. Researchers determined that the participants with higher levels of vitamin E and C consumption were at a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s (Jama 2002). Their results concluded the same relationship existed between vitamin E and C consumption on the prevalence and incidence on AD, just at the Cashe County Study had concluded.

        Dr. Daniel J. Foley of the National Institute of Aging in Bethesda, and Lon R. White of the Pacific Health Research Institute in Hawaii wrote in part referring to The Rotterdam Study, "These two studies do not provide the final answer as to whether antioxidant vitamins are truly protective against [Alzheimer’s]. Nonetheless, the idea that vitamin E and vitamin C might have beneficial effects on the underlying AD process makes sense" (Moeller 2002). Foley and Lon reiterated the necessity to conduct further studies over longer time intervals are crucial (Moeller 2002).

         Although the evidence strongly supports that higher intake levels of vitamins E and C, both via diet and supplements, scientists have yet to state that it will prevent Alzheimer’s in all cases. It does show reduced risks; however, it is not yet a course of prevention, simply a suggestion. Some health promoting antioxidants are: beta-carotene, which can be found in orange foods such as carrots, pumpkins, and mangos, lutein— often found along with high concentrations of vitamin E— are present in many greens like spinach and kale, and lycopene—usually present with high vitamin C concentrations— found in many red/pink fruits such as tomatoes, blood oranges, and watermelon (Murdock 2009). By balancing a proper diet, not only can antioxidants help prevent dementia diseases such as Alzheimer’s in the elderly, but it can also help prevent other ailments, namely multiple types of cancers, and heart disease. Although the saying goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, we are still waiting for concrete evidence to say that, “spinach and oranges tonight, keeps your brain working right.”

 

 

 

References

Alzheimer's Disease Fact Sheet. (n.d.). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Publications/adfact.htm

Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention: Fact Sheet - National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). National Cancer Institute - Comprehensive Cancer Information. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/antioxidants

Davis, P. (2002, August 26). The Faces of Alzheimer's - TIME. Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - TIME.com. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1003090-2,00.html

Dementia. (n.d.). Alzheimers Home Page. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://alzheimers.emedtv.com/dementia/dementia.html

Free Radical Research - antioxidants and aging. (n.d.). Free Radical Research - antioxidants and aging. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.freeradicalscience.com/

Jama. (n.d.). Antioxidants Help Alzheimer's  - health news. Alternative Natural Health - breakthrough - a powerful natural nutritional remedy for several cancers and many other 'incurable' diseases. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.truehealth.org/ahealn32.html

Moeller, R. (2002, June 26). Studies Suggest Antioxidants May Protect against Alzheimer's: Scientific American. Science News, Articles and Information | Scientific American. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=studies-suggest-antioxida

Murdock, D. H. (2009, May 20). David H. Murdock: A Recipe For Longevity: 33 Of The Healthiest Foods On Earth. Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-h-murdock/a-recipe-for-longevity_b_205355.html

Understanding Free Radicals and Antioxidants. (n.d.). HealthCheck Systems - body fat scales, heart rate monitors, breastpumps, omron, Baby Strollers, detecto, polar. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.healthchecksystems.com/antioxid.htm

What is Alzheimer's. (2010, February 18). Alzheimer's Association | Home. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp

Zandi, P. P., Anthony, J. C., & Khachaturian, A. S. (n.d.). Arch Neurol -- Abstract: Reduced Risk of Alzheimer Disease in Users of Antioxidant Vitamin Supplements: The Cache County Study, January 2004, Zandi et al. 61 (1): 82. Archives of Neurology, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal published by AMA. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://archneur.highwire.org/cgi/content/abstract/61/1/82

 

 

 

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