Carotenoids Could Mitigate Alzheimer’s Disease Risk

by Ella

Emerging research indicates that specific micronutrients present in fruits and vegetables might hold the key to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study.

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, afflicting over 6.5 million Americans, with a significant proportion aged 75 years or older, underscores the urgency of understanding preventive strategies. The disease’s impact on cognitive function and memory can impair daily tasks and recollections, making it vital to explore potential avenues for risk reduction.


While genetics, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, sleep patterns, and social engagement are associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk, an often overlooked factor is diet.


A recent investigation conducted by the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine delved into the connection between dietary choices and their interplay with brain health in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. This study found a noteworthy association between carotenoids, a group of micronutrients, and Alzheimer’s disease risk. Carotenoids were found in lower concentrations in individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s compared to those without the condition.


Uncovering the Carotenoid-Alzheimer’s Disease Link
This new study underscores the substantial impact of dietary choices on the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.


The findings align with a previous investigation called The Rush Memory and Aging Project. This study assessed the dietary habits of 1,489 participants in retirement or residing in nursing homes, revealing a correlation between carotenoid intake and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Carotenoids, including beta-carotene found in carrots, cantaloupe, spinach, and sweet potatoes, and lutein found in egg yolks, watercress, and pistachios, were associated with this reduced risk.

The recent study delved deeper, analyzing micronutrient levels in the brains of individuals with confirmed Alzheimer’s disease and those without the pathology. Concentrations of specific carotenoids—lycopene, zeaxanthin, lutein, and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E)—were notably lower in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

C. Kathleen Dorey, Ph.D., Professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, highlighted that carotenoids’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties could explain this correlation. Inflammation and oxidation play roles in Alzheimer’s disease development, and the presence of carotenoids could counteract these processes.

This study marks the first documentation of carotenoid levels in Alzheimer’s disease-afflicted brains. Dorey emphasizes that incorporating a diet rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene, alongside an overall balanced diet, may contribute to preserving brain health.

Incorporating Brain-Boosting Carotenoids into Your Diet
The study underscores the importance of consuming vegetables not only for vitamins, minerals, and fiber but also for their carotenoid content.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, an accomplished nutrition expert and bestselling cookbook author, emphasizes that only about 1 in 10 Americans meet their vegetable requirements. Increasing vegetable intake is essential, and including carotenoid-rich foods can be a step in the right direction.

Foods rich in lycopene, zeaxanthin, lutein, and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) should find a place in your diet to support brain health. For those seeking specific dietary additions, consider the following options:

Lycopene: tomatoes, watermelon, guava
Zeaxanthin: yellow corn, egg yolks, orange peppers
Lutein: watercress, egg yolks, kiwi fruit, pistachios
Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, pumpkin, peanuts
Prioritizing Brain Health through Diet
While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans don’t prescribe exact carotenoid targets, they recommend consuming at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily.

Including carotenoid-rich produce in your diet can supply your body with compounds that support brain health.

Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified sports dietitian, stresses the importance of a diverse vegetable intake. Ehsani highlights the significance of consuming a variety of vegetables, each offering distinct nutritional profiles and a range of nutrients.

The MIND diet, a fusion of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, offers a practical framework for enhancing carotenoid intake. While not a guaranteed solution for preventing cognitive decline, the MIND diet advocates regular fish consumption, ample whole grains, and specific emphasis on vegetables. It suggests consuming at least one serving of non-green leafy vegetables and six servings of green leafy vegetables per week.

Crafting a Brain-Boosting Diet
While each case of Alzheimer’s is unique, dietary habits can play a role in promoting brain health. Carotenoids, with their potential to counteract Alzheimer’s-associated processes, offer a valuable component of a brain-boosting diet.

C. Kathleen Dorey advises, “Getting exercise and following a healthy diet is our best bet to keep our brains in optimal condition.” While carotenoids may not provide an absolute solution, their incorporation into a balanced diet underscores the importance of diet in preserving cognitive well-being.



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