Beagles’ Tricks Assist Alzheimer’s Fight
Scientists have found a way to teach an old beagle forgotten tricks in research that suggests a healthy diet could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s affects one in 20 of those over 65 and nearly a quarter of those over 85, causing dementia, loss of memory, personality changes and, eventually, death.
There are half a million sufferers in the UK and the misery is set to increase as the average age of the population rises: some predict as many as one million sufferers within two decades.
A diet rich in antioxidants could help prevent the disease, according to a study of 70 beagles of various ages, reported to the association by Prof Carl Cotman of the University of California, Irvine.
The older beagles suffered cognitive impairment, a decline in memory akin to that in people, which Prof Cotman called a pre-Alzheimer’s stage. However, he found their brain function “can be rejuvenated by this long-term diet”.
In addition, the team found that the diet could reduce the accumulation of a protein, beta amyloid, which forms clumps in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Their study complements human trials that suggest antioxidants can cut the incidence of the disease.
One reason for the research was to follow up earlier work that discovered that a combination of vitamins E and C could reduce the incidence of the disease and that rats given two dietary supplements – acetyl-L-carnitine and an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid – had more energy and better memory.
For three years, the test group of beagles took acetyl-L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid and vitamins E and C.
The really remarkable finding was that they learnt how to do tasks they could only do when younger. “That was the astonishing part,” said Prof Cotman.
The findings were complemented by other research that has shown it might be possible to prevent Alzheimer’s by limiting the accumulation of fats in the brain, particularly cholesterol and ceramide.
Dr Benjamin Wolozin of the Loyola University School of Medicine revealed the promise of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins in delaying the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
These cut production of the protein that forms deposits in the brain. Statins also have antioxidant properties, Dr Wolozin told the association.
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