Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Role of Dietary Greens in Brain Health

One of the hallmarks of the Bredesen Protocol for Alzheimer’s disease is that most of the treatment is lifestyle based.  There is a tendency to not think that lifestyle factors as simple as what one eats could have such a profound effect on such a complex disease.  A recent study of 1,068 older adults, the Rush Memory and Aging Project, showed just how important a single dietary factor can have pronounced effects.

The subjects' diets were analyzed specifically looking at how many servings of greens including spinach, kale, collards, greens and lettuce/salad were consumed daily.  All subjects had annual cognitive testing over 5 years.  Those consuming 1.5 or more servings daily had cognitive performance scores a striking 11 years younger than those with the lowest consumption (<1 serving/week).  The results remained valid after accounting for other factors that could affect brain health, such as seafood and alcohol consumption, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, education level and amount of physical and cognitive activities.

The suspected mechanism driving this relationship is likely that greens are a major source of “methylation factors” in the diet.  Methylation is a primary mechanism through which our genes are regulated.  This includes both keeping genes that may increase our disease risk turned off and activating those involved in reactions that tend to be disease preventative.  Methylation factors include vitamin B12, B6, folate, the amino acid methionine and choline.  Methylation reactions occur thousands of times daily in all of our cells literally determining healthy function. 

The methylation cycle involves several enzyme reactions that use the above nutrients to activate.  The end product of these reactions is a methyl group which performs the gene regulation.  The cycle also produces “waste products” such as homocysteine which can increase brain cell degeneration if it is not efficiently removed.  This requires adequate amounts of vitamin B6.

Many studies have found that the brain is very sensitive to loss of proper gene methylation with age causing an increased rate of memory decline.  Acceleration of this decline in gene methylation with age by inadequate dietary provision of the needed nutrients appears to greatly accelerate this process.  Although the concept that just eating multiple servings of greens daily seems too simple to be involved in such a complex disease such as Alzheimer’s, appreciating the scientific concept behind the relationship establishes the importance.

It is likely that some persons are more susceptible to the level of nutrients involved in the methylation cycle.  Genetic variations called polymorphisms can cause any single enzyme in the cycle to be weak under-producing its reaction.  For example, the enzyme that converts dietary folate to the form used in the cycle, 5-methylated folate is variant in perhaps as many as 1 in 5 Westerners.  As higher amounts of dietary folate have been shown to help compensate for this gene variant, these individuals are very sensitive to dietary amounts.

Eating greens by itself is not a total solution to disease prevention and treatment.  The Bredesen Protocol™ derives its success from testing and treating many different factors most of which are lifestyle related.  However, one part of this comprehensive protocol does involve eating multiple servings of greens daily.


The study is to be published in the journal Neurology later this year.