Eating a bunch of meat and cheese is like adding bullets to a gun’s chamber for Russian roulette when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a clinical researcher and health advocate who is speaking at the Aspen Institute on Wednesday.
Dr. Neal Barnard said Monday that people who want to drastically reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease must go vegan. A plant-based diet free of animal products is the cornerstone of seven guidelines developed by Barnard and other international researchers in 2013 to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. “The time to adopt it is the time you hear about it,” Barnard said Monday in a telephone interview from his Washington, D.C., office. “So the time to adopt is now. That’s the bottom line.”
By age 85, nearly half of Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease, he said. Research over the past 20 years shows a close tie between Alzheimer’s and consumption of saturated fats found in meat and dairy products and trans fats found in snacks and fried foods, according to Barnard.
The Chicago Health and Aging Project started observing people’s diets in 1993, and a decade later, published findings that show people who ate the most saturated fats and trans fats had between 2 and 3.5 times greater chance of getting Alzheimer’s than those who consumed the least amount of saturated and trans fats, Barnard said. “They found that if you have a high cholesterol, your risk of getting Alzheimer’s was much greater,”
He believes the research is conclusive that the 92 percent of Americans eating a meat-based diet are asking for trouble. “If you’re following the typical American meat-based diet, your likelihood of having heart disease now and Alzheimer’s disease later is extremely high,” Barnard said. The typical American is showing signs of heart disease by the time they are a teenager, he added. Switching to a diet free of animal products will prove beneficial at any age, though there is “definitely a point” where the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s cannot be reversed, he said.
Barnard is an adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The guidelines he helped create aren’t completely about avoiding specific foods. Various studies also show that including certain dietary items can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
“The people that had the most vitamin E in their diets had about a 50 percent reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s,” Barnard said. The vitamin E should come from foods such as nuts, green leafy vegetables and whole grains rather than supplements, according to the guidelines. The right exercise also is beneficial, Barnard said, but it cannot take the place of a proper diet.