Los Angeles – Diets that mimic fasting appear to reduce signs of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a groundbreaking new study in mice.
Researchers from the USC Leonard Davis College of Gerontology say that time-restricted eating lowers levels of two hallmarks of the disease – amyloid beta and hyperphosphorylated tau protein. These substances accumulate and intertwine in the brain, causing disturbances in cognitive function that lead to dementia.
Mice following this fasting diet — which has been genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s disease — also had less inflammation in the brain and performed better on cognitive tests than other mice fed a regular diet.
The fasting mimicking diet (FMD) the researchers examined was high in unsaturated fats and low in total calories, protein and carbohydrates. The diet mimics the effect of sticking to a water-only fasting while still providing dieters with the necessary nutrients. Previous studies have found that junk food is associated with many health benefits, including stem cell regeneration, reduced side effects of chemotherapy, and reduced risks of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other age-related diseases.
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In this studyProfessor Walter Longo and his team examined healthy mice and two groups of mice prone to dementia, E4FAD and 3xTg. The researchers fed the mice a diet that simulated fasting for four to five days at a time, twice a month. Between these cycles, the animals ate a normal diet.
Over the course of the long-term experiment, 3xTg mice received 30 fasting cycles over a period of 15 months. In shorter experiments, the team fed mice 3xTg and E4FAD for anywhere from one to 12 FMD cycles over a period of six months.
In both experiments, the results revealed that mice participating in FMD cycles displayed marked drops in amyloid-beta. This substance forms sticky plaques in the brain. Tau proteins, which form tangles in the brain, also decreased among the fasting mice. The FMD group also had lower levels of encephalitis and fewer active microglia. These immune cells look for and destroy viruses and damaged cells throughout the brain.
The mice on the diet even had lower levels of oxidative stress, which researchers say plays a role in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Oxidative stress, which develops due to an imbalance between the production and accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), damages neurons and leads to the accumulation of more amyloid in the brain. Specifically, Longo says, “superoxide” free radicals play a key role in causing damage to mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.
When it comes to their behavior, the study also found that fasting rats showed less cognitive decline than their peers on a standard diet. Fasting mice performed better during the maze test compared to Alzheimer’s mice on a standard diet and almost matched the performance of healthy mice.
Tests are underway among human patients
Longo and the team also reviewed data from a small phase I clinical trial examining a fasting diet in human patients with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. The 40 healthy adult patients took part in five FMD days once a month or simply replaced lunch or dinner with pasta or rice for five days.
The data reveal that fasting is a safe option for humans with cognitive decline. Additional tests hope to confirm the promising results seen in mice.
The study was published in the journal cell reports.
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