Common nutrient deficiency linked to profound changes in brain – study

Alzheimer's: Dr Chris discusses the early signs of condition

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The study, put forward by researchers at Arizona State University, suggests that a choline deficiency “adversely affects the body”, including organs, such as the brain. An estimated 90 percent of Americans are not meeting the recommended daily intake of choline, the authors noted. In the mice model, deficiency in choline, which is readily available in certain foods, resulted in liver damage, enlargement of the heart, and neurologic alterations.

Most specifically, neurologic changes include increased levels of plaque-forming amyloid-beta protein and disease-linked alterations in tau protein.

Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of amyloid protein and tau proteins, the NHS confirms.

The researchers found choline deficiency also led to significant weight gain and alterations in glucose metabolism, and deficits in motor skills.

Assistant professor at the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center, Ramon Velazquez, commented on choline deficiency in humans.

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“First, people don’t reach the adequate daily intake of choline established by the Institute of Medicine in 1998,” he said.

“And secondly, there is vast literature showing that the recommended daily intake amounts are not optimal for brain-related functions.”

Sufficient choline in the diet reduces levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which has been recognised as a neurotoxin.

The neurotoxin homocysteine contributes to neurodegeneration, the paper reported.

Which foods contain choline?

The nutrient choline can be found in:

  • Eggs
  • Broccoli
  • Beans
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Soybeans
  • Brussel sprouts.

The paper added: “Choline is needed to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in memory, muscle control and mood.

“Choline also builds cell membranes and helps regulate gene expression.”

The researchers hypothesised that adequate choline consumption “may help protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease”.

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Alzheimer’s disease

The progressive disease “is the most common cause of dementia”, the Alzheimer’s Society says.

The charity explains that “billions of nerve cells that connect to each other” are lost when a person has Alzheimer’s.

This is because abnormal proteins, known as plaques and tangles, build up in the brain, interfering with the way nerve cells communicate to each other.

Eventually, over time, the nerve cells die and brain tissue is lost, leading to signs of the disease.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can include:

  • Memory problems
  • Difficulties with thinking, reasoning, language and perception
  • Changes in mood
  • Becoming insular
  • Delusions and hallucinations.

How quickly the disease progresses, and the life expectancy of someone with Alzheimer’s, vary from person to person.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, support and medication is available to ease symptoms.

Anybody concerned they may have dementia are encouraged to speak to their GP.

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