By the they hit 70, 1 in 5 people around the world suffer from some kind of cognitive impairment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These diseases are progressive and can have fatal consequences, so the sooner we stop the process, the better.
Although science is still searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, controlling the risk factors can save thousands of lives every year. Scientists are hard at work to identify the risk factors of this progressive mental disease and are doing everything they can to come up with a treatment.
In 1990, a study done on more than 20 Alzheimer’s patients revealed that they had a high level of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is a harmful substance which can damage our physical and mental health. One 60s study found out that the brain of two children with high homocysteine levels in the in their blood was turned to mush, which shows just how dangerous it is.
Both kids suffered from rare genetic mutations which allowed homocysteine to build up in their blood, which led scientists to conclude that the harmful substance plays a major role in some mental diseases.
Nowadays, homocysteine levels of more than 14 µmol/L are considered a strong factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. According to one study, 1 in 6 Alzheimer’s cases can be attributed to a high level of homocysteine in the blood, which has also been found to damage the brain and is considered responsible for cognitive decline.
The body uses folate, vitamin B6 and 12 to clean excess homocysteine from the blood, but no matter how many studies link the compound with memory decline, its role can only be confirmed by interventional studies.
Such studies have been conducted, but not much progress has been made so far. Vitamin supplements rarely work, although most of the studies were focused on neuropsychological assessment rather than neuroimaging. One study showed that reducing the amount of homocysteine in the blood with a variety of vitamins from the B group can reduce the speeding brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s patients.
Of course, our brains tend to shrink as we age, but the atrophy is far more accelerated in cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Knowing this, slowing down the atrophy rate should prevent the disease. One study gave subjects vitamin B supplements over the course of two years and the nutrients were able to slow down the brain shrinkage, while the amount of homocysteine in the blood of these patients was cut in half.
This means that there are safe and simple treatments against cognitive decline, although further research is certainly needed before drawing final conclusions.
Later, follow-up studies revealed that vitamins from the B group can reduce the risk of brain atrophy by 7 times. The beneficial effect of vitamin B was associated with the lack of the nutrient in the subjects’ blood, so it makes sense that we should all try and prevent the deficiencies from occurring in the first place.
The patients were getting enough vitamins B6 and B12 through their diet, but they weren’t getting much folate. Folate can be found in leafy greens and beans, which we rarely eat nowadays, resulting in an increased risk of cognitive decline.
By putting ourselves on a plant diet, we can reduce the levels of homocysteine by nearly 20% per week without any pills or supplements. According to scientists, it’s not all about the folate. Plants contain a high level of fiber as well, which may also play a role in the removal of excess homocysteine from the blood.
A gram of fiber has been found to increase the amount of folate in the blood by 2%, so the nutrient certainly plays a role. Furthermore, scientists also suggest that another compound, methionine, is also reduced by folate and fiber.
Methionine is a homocysteine byproduct that may also play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. If you eat eggs and bacon for breakfast, your homocysteine levels will rise immediately, so a diet with a reduced methionine intake may keep your homocysteine levels steady. However, the irony is that people on a plant-based diet have awful homocysteine levels, and it’s all because they’re not getting enough vitamin B12.
FStudies have shown that vegans are suffering from hyperhomocysteinaemia as they’re not getting much of this important vitamin which the body uses to clean up homocysteine. The key is in a balanced diet which will provide our body with vitamins B6, B12 and folate as well. In this way, we’ll be able to prevent our brain from shrinking and stop the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.