We’re well aware that some environmental factors, such as lack of exercise and the things that we eat, may have a bearing on our susceptibility to Alzheimer’s, with an estimated 25% of Alzheimer’s cases being associated with diet and inactivity. However, we still don’t know why this happens, and how this kind of lifestyle has such an effect on our cognitive function.
A group of researchers, led by Tufts University/The Jackson Laboratory, has recently undertaken a study to look more closely at the connections between the ‘Western diet’ and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. A special ‘chow’ containing all the elements of a western diet – high amounts of animal products, fat and sugars combined with a low plant-based content – was developed and fed to both healthy mice and mice models of Alzheimer’s. The mice received this special chow from aged two to ten months, a period equating to human late adolescence to early middle age.
The researchers found that prolonged consumption of this kind of diet resulted in a significant increase in immune response activity in the brains of all the mice in the study. In particular, the researchers saw an increase in microglial activity, the brain’s immune cells, and monocytes, which circulate the white blood cells. While prior studies have found an association with the western diet and the development of inflammation, this particular study adds strength to the possibility that an increase in the immune activity in the brain has an effect on our susceptibility to developing Alzheimer’s disease.
From their study, the researchers also found that all the mice in the study exhibited a significant increase in the number of microglia that express a key protein, known as TREM2. This immune regulatory protein has already been linked to both Alzheimer’s and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases; however this particular study is the first to show an increase in these cells as a result of the consumption of this kind of diet. Furthermore, the researchers also found a strong correlation between the increase of the number of TREM2 cells and an increase of beta-amyloid plaque, leading the researchers to suggest that targeting these cells may have positive benefits for patients already exhibiting signs of cognitive decline caused by diet.
The original research was published online in the February 18th edition of Scientific Reports.
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