More bad news for meat-lovers: a new study links consumption of animal-based proteins to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, published in the recent issue of the Journal of American College of Nutrition, looked at the rates of Alzheimer’s disease and diet patterns in ten countries: Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, India, Mongolia, Nigeria, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and the United States.
“Mounting evidence […] indicates that the Western dietary pattern—especially the large amount of meat in that diet—is strongly associated with risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and several other chronic diseases,” said study author Dr. William Grant of the Sunlight Nutrition and Health Research Center.
Countries that have begun to include more Western diet foods—primarily fast food and meat—have seen Alzheimer’s disease rates rise.
The research, which looked at data over the course of five to 15 years, identifies meat consumption as having the “highest correlation” to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, compared with plant-based diets, reports Food Navigator. Higher levels of vitamin D were also found to decrease the risk.
“Although the traditional Mediterranean diet is associated with about half the risk of [Alzheimer’s disease] of the Western diet, the traditional diets of countries such as India, Japan, and Nigeria, with very low meat consumption, are associated with an additional 50% reduction in risk of AD,” noted Grant.
The research could provide further insight into a long-suspected link between Alzheimer’s and mad cow disease—Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy–the brain-deteriorating condition linked to eating meat from cows who ate other cows (or other animals) infected with the prions that cause the disease. This happens via animal feed laced with animal meat not fit for human consumption—a banned agricultural practice.
“In mad cow disease, and a similar human condition called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, prion proteins fold into an abnormal shape that appears to cause degeneration of the brain and spinal cord,” NPR reported in 2009. And it appears there’s a connection in how the mad cow prion interacts with amyloid-betas, the proteins responsible for forming the plaques that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Some experts, including well-known proponent of alternative medicine, Dr. Mercola, have suggested a strong link between mad cow and Alzheimer’s disease. Though peer-reviewed studies on this are still lacking.
But what is clear now as a result of this most recent research, is that eating animal products increases the risk of both mad cow and Alzheimer’s.
“[R]educing meat consumption could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as of several cancers, diabetes mellitus type 2, stroke, and, likely, chronic kidney disease,” says Grant.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that more than five million Americans currently suffer from the fatal disease. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s.
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