According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 5.4 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. A progressively debilitating disease, it ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
The cost of care is astronomical: more than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for persons with Alzheimer's and other dementias valued at $210 billion, and actual payments for care were estimated to be $200 billion in the U.S. in 2012. Researchers have worked for decades to find ways to prevent the disease, or at the very least, slow its progression. A study conducted in Germany took a close look at the effect of antioxidants on dementia and the work was recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, adding more weight to the promising role of antioxidants in the fight against dementia.
Around 700,000 Germans are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, presenting with symptoms that include lack of orientation, cognitive decline and absentmindedness, triggered by amyloid beta plaques, degeneration of fibrillae and synapse loss. In an effort to get to the bottom of potential risk factors, researchers at the University of Ulm, led by Professor Gabriele Nagel and neurology Professor Christine von Arnim, evaluated 74 Alzheimer's patients and 158 healthy controls between the ages of 65 and 90 who were gender matched. After conducting various neuropsychological, blood and BMI evaluations, the researchers discovered that the serum concentration of the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene were much lower in patients with mild dementia than in the control subjects. For all other examined antioxidants (vitamin E, lycopene, coenzyme Q10) no corresponding difference was detected, despite having included other potential confounding factors such as civil status, education and consumption of alcohol and tobacco in the statistical analysis.
Study results, according to the researchers, may have been impacted by the storage and preparation of food and patient stress, warranting more research. “Longitudinal studies with more participants are necessary to confirm the result that vitamin C and beta-carotene might prevent the onset and development of Alzheimer’s disease,” commented Dr. Nagel.
Despite the interest in further research, the results of the University of Ulm study indicated that it was possible to influence the pathogenesis of this neurological disorder through the use of dietary antioxidants or a change in diet. The researchers acknowledged that oxidative stress contributed to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and believed that antioxidants could potentially protect the body against neurodegeneration.
The Green Tea Connection
Green tea is another substance that has been attached to a variety of health benefits, one of which is protection against dementia. In 2010, a scientific article in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine identified the enzyme PAI-1 as being inhibited by components of green tea extract, potentially slowing the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Another accolade came from Dr. Michael Seidman, medical director for Integrative Medicine at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, who cited a study completed by scientists at Newcastle University in northeast England which stated: "regularly drinking green tea could protect people from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia as well as cancer."
“The antioxidants in green tea have anti-inflammatory properties,” said Dr. Seidman. “Inflammation is a precursor for many things including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative problems. Regular consumption of black and green teas may lower cholesterol, and drinking green tea reduces the risk of cancer.”
A recent newsletter from Troy, MI-based Orion Theraputics, makers of Cantavita time-release antioxidant supplement, highlighted the benefits of catechins, a powerful flavonoid prevalent in green tea and in many other plants, as also having demonstrated antioxidant benefits. “Free radicals are created in every cell of the body as a consequence of energy production (production of ATP), as a result of inflammation and by the metabolism of fatty acids,” the company wrote. “Free radicals also enter the body from external sources such as radiation and air pollution. These external sources of free radicals are energetic and very chemically reactive. They can interact with DNA, proteins, RNA and membranes in the cells of the body, not only causing cell death, but also creating cell mutations.
“Free radicals have been associated with causing many chronic diseases and altering tissue and organ functions,” the company added. “Having sufficient antioxidants in the body at all times is an important element in helping to combat the damaging effects of free radicals.”