'Western' Diet & Alzheimer's-Like Effects in Mice
Whether findings might apply to humans remains to be seen
"Well-controlled" means that researchers would have to account for many other factors in people's mental function -- such as education, overall health and lifestyle habits. Koppel said studies should also use "more elaborate" tests of memory and other mental abilities, and not only the short screening tool used in this study.
For now, he said, "The take-away is that a diet enriched in these compounds seems to do bad things in mice."
Vlassara agreed that more human studies are needed. But she said people don't have to wait to make dietary changes -- especially since cutting down on foods high in these compounds, and eating more plant-based foods, generally are considered healthy moves.
"You don't have to become a vegetarian," Vlassara said. "But pay attention to what you eat and how you prepare it."
Since these chemicals are churned out when food is cooked at a high and dry heat, Vlassara said people can try using "less heat and more water" when they cook -- through methods such as poaching, braising and steaming.
No one knows whether swapping cooking techniques will curb the risk of Alzheimer's. And Koppel cautioned that findings from mice cannot simply be applied to humans. It's not clear, for example, how high a person's intake of AGEs would have to be to match what the lab mice ate.
Still, Vlassara said, many people are interested in potential ways to slow or prevent mental decline as they age. Aiming for a healthier diet, she said, "is an easy step you can make on your own."
In the United States, more than 5 million people have Alzheimer's disease. That number could balloon to nearly 16 million by 2050 as the elderly population grows, according to the Alzheimer's Association. There is no proven way to prevent it, but studies have suggested that some of the same problems that damage the heart -- such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes -- may also boost the risk of Alzheimer's.
So in general, the Alzheimer's Association says, it's a good idea to maintain a healthy diet, exercise, quit smoking and control any heart disease risk factors you may have.