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      Nutrition and Neurodegenerative Diseases - Part 1

      Daniel-J. CRISAFI, ND.A., MH, PhD

      My father has Alzheimer's and my grandfather has Parkinson's - both are neurodegenerative diseases. Is it possible for me to avoid developing these diseases?

      Yes! But before I tell you what you can do to prevent these diseases, let me define them and put the hereditary component into perspective.


      A neurodegenerative disease is a disease where there is a progressive loss of function or the structure of neurons becomes compromised. In other words, neurons lose their ability to function normally, or there are fewer and fewer of them. The disease will manifest itself differently depending on the area of ​​the brain that is affected. Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are among the most common neurodegenerative diseases.

These diseases are serious in that they affect the brain - the control center of the whole body. Moreover, when it comes to memory loss, the effect is even more painful because it affects our ability to identify ourselves and to recognize those we love. There is a sense that this type of disease radically affects the expression of our humanity, even if it cannot – as nothing can - affect our humanity itself. In the case of Parkinson's disease, memory is not affected - it is our ability to live life to its fullest that is affected. The tragedy of these diseases is all the greater as they develop progressively - those who are affected gradually slip into a debilitating state. These are serious diseases that have a painful effect on those who suffer from them as well as on those who love them.


      Fortunately, and this is the first point I would like to emphasize, genetics does not play an important role in the development of these diseases. Indeed, a growing number of researchers point out that "almost all neurodegenerative disorders have a minor genetic element..”.1 According to the Quebec Federation of the Alzheimer Society: "The most common form of Alzheimer's disease is not hereditary, but 'sporadic'. The hereditary or 'familial' form is very rare ... Familial Alzheimer's disease represents less than 5% of all cases of Alzheimer's disease.2 You read it correctly ... less than 5% of cases of Alzheimer's disease are familial or hereditary! In the case of Parkinson's disease, the hereditary incidence is at most 15%.3 Let's not be fatalistic when it comes to this kind of disease and focus on the 85-95% of factors that are potentially modifiable.

      Why do they occur, then?

      If genetics play only a minor role in the development of these diseases, then the question is why do they develop?

      The scientific literature contains more and more studies that suggest that two factors are involved in the development of these diseases. The first is nutritional and the second, while affected by nutrition, is mostly environmental. Let's look at them more closely.


      When it comes to degenerative diseases, nutrition works on two fronts. It helps to feed and protect. Two phenomena occur in people suffering from this type of disease: there is a progressive destruction of brain cells as well as a reduction in compensatory repair. Neurons become damaged faster than in normal people and they repair themselves more slowly. This imbalance between anabolism (the repair or production of new cells) and catabolism (the destruction of cells) is at the root of these neurodegenerative diseases.

Many studies highlight the importance of nutrition in preventing neurodegenerative diseases as well as slowing their progression when they are already present. As early as 1999, Gibson and Blass emphasized the role of nutrition in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.4 The same authors noted, for example, that oxidative stress (free radicals) and zinc deficiency are associated with Alzheimer's disease as well as with Parkinson's disease.5 Several more recent studies have shown that the link between nutrition and neurodegenerative diseases is unavoidable. In this section, I would like to concentrate on two nutritional factors, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

The brain is the part of the body that contains the highest percentage of fat. Indeed, the dry weight of the brain is between 60 and 70% fat depending on the methodology used.6 These fats serve several functions: ensuring adequate nerve transmission, facilitating the passage of brain nutrients and providing a protective membrane for brain cells. Knowing this, we can better  understand the benefits of essential fatty acids and the effect they have on brain health.

      The work of Simopoulos has made it possible to understand, beyond any doubt, the importance of the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fats.7 Since 2003, published studies emphasize the essential role of these good fats, especially omega-3s, in maintaining cognitive function. Researchers have conclusively demonstrated that consuming omega-3 fatty acids can, among other things, prevent and even reverse Alzheimer's disease.8

      These "good fats" have both a structural role, as they form part of the structure of cell membranes, and an anti-inflammatory role. Inflammation has been shown to be a causal and aggravating factor in these diseases.9 Finally, it should be noted that omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role in regulating gene expression.10 Therefore, it is obvious that these essential fatty acids are essential for the prevention or treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and strokes.11

      Some dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids

      • Mackerel
      • Salmon
      • Walnuts
      • Chia seeds
      • Linseed
      • Sardines
      • Hemp seeds
      • Anchovies
      • Egg yolks

      Choosing an omega-3 supplement

      But it's not just about ensuring that you are getting enough good dietary fat, you also need to protect brain lipids. The damage caused by oxidative stress on brain cells is intimately linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease as well as that of Parkinson's. Indeed, oxidative stress, or damage by free radicals, to use popular terminology, is one of the most important factors in the development of this type of disease.12 This is why many studies recommend the preventive and therapeutic use of various natural antioxidant substances to treat neurodegenerative diseases. Among these, I would like to emphasize the use of the following: n-acetyl-cysteine,13 Vitamin E,14 selenium,15 Coenzyme Q1016 and Alpha Lipoic Acid.17 A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Archives of Neurology goes so far as to suggest that "the combined use of Vitamin C and Vitamin E supplements is associated with a reduced frequency and incidence of Alzheimer's disease.18

       Supplementing with these antioxidants can provide important preventive and therapeutic support for those who want to prevent the development of these diseases, as well as those who want to slow down the progression of an existing neurodegenerative disease. Indeed, several researchers in the field recommend the use of antioxidant supplements in the therapeutic prevention of these neurodegenerative diseases.19

      Suggested dosage of antioxidants *

      • Alpha Lipoic Acid
      • Coenzyme Q10
      • N-acetyl-cysteine
      • Selenium
      • Vitamin C
      • Vitamin E

      * The recommended dosage is the minimum required in supplement form and is offered for informational purposes only. 


      AntioxidantFood Sources*Additional daily dose as a supplement**
      Alpha Lipoic AcidBroccoli
      Red meat
      Brussels sprouts
      200 mg
      Coenzyme Q10Beef
      Free-range chicken 
      Rainbow trout
      Sesame seeds
      Chicken eggs 
      100 mg
      Sunflower seeds
      Oat bran
      500 mg
      SeleniumBrazil nuts
      Sesame seeds
      Lamb or veal liver
      Chicken breast
      Chia seeds
      100 mcg
      Vitamin CCassis
      Red bell pepper
      Green pepper
      500 mg
      Vitamin ESunflower seeds
      400 UI

      * Choose organically grown foods, ripe fruit and wild game or free-range animals whose diet is made up of organic foods to get maximum nutritional value.

      ** The recommended dosage is the minimum required in the form of supplements and is offered for informational purposes only.


      Polyphenols are another category of antioxidants that have attracted the attention of researchers.20 Polyphenols are the most prevalent class of antioxidants in plant-based foods. These food antioxidants protect brain cells in the same way as the antioxidants mentioned above.21

      Some dietary sources of polyphenols *

      • FRUITS
      • Blueberries
      • Black cherries
      • Strawberries
      • Raspberries
      • Citrus fruits
      • Bilberries
      • Apples
      • Dark grapes
      • OTHER
      • Cocoa
      • White or green tea
      • Red wine

      * Fruits picked ripe and organically grown foods usually have considerably more polyphenols.

      Finally, turmeric, the active ingredient in curry, is associated with a reduction in the development of Alzheimer's disease in India. Studies in mice have shown that turmeric - in addition to having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects - reduces the rate of formation of amyloid plaques  among the population. This same study goes so far as to suggest that turmeric could even destroy these plaques.22

      Part 1 - Conclusion

      You don’t need to worry that you will develop Alzheimer's or Parkinson's just because your family members have it as the genetic factor is minimal. However, in a society where the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases is on the rise, it makes sense to learn about ways to reduce the risk of developing them. As we have seen, diet is a major factor in the development of these diseases. It is, therefore, wise to "get back on track", so to speak, at the nutritional level so that the odds of avoiding these debilitating diseases are in your favor.

In the second part of this article, I will address three other essential factors in the development of these diseases: xenobiotics, oxygen and exercise.


      1. Bondy, Stephen Anthropogenic pollutants may increase the incidence of neurodegenerative disease in an aging population, Toxicology Volumes 341–343, 3 February 2016, Pages 41-46. La citation exact: “Nearly all neurodegenerative disorders have a relatively minor genetic element and a larger idiopathic component.”
      4. Gary E Gibson and John P Blass, “Nutrition and the Treatment of Neurodegenerative Disease” dans Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition, Lippincott-Raven (1999)
      5. Ibid.
      6. John S. O’Brien and E. Lois Sampson Lipid composition of the normal human brain: gray matter, white matter, and myelin, Journal Of Lipid Research Vol. 6, 1965
      7. Simopoulos AP, Cleland LG (eds): Omega–6/Omega–3 Essential Fatty Acid Ratio: The Scientific Evidence. World Rev Nutr Diet., 2003, vol 92, pp 37–56
      8. Xiuzhe Wang et al., Resolution of inflammation is altered in Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, January 2015Volume 11, Issue 1, Pages 40–50.e2
      9. Amor, Sandra et al., Inflammation in neurodegenerative diseases – an update, Immunology, 142, 151–166 
      10. Price, Pamela Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid regulation of gene expression, Current Opinion in Lipidology 11(1):3-7, March 2000
      11. Ana Márcia Delattre, Pedro Vinícius Staziaki, Anete Curte Ferraz, “Effects of Omega-3 on Neurodegenerative Diseases and Stroke” dans Foods and Dietary Supplements in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease in Older Adults, Academic Press 2015, Pages 187–201
      12. Sharon Palmer, Smart Eating— How Diet May Help Preserve the Brain Today’s Dietitian Vol. 11 No. 7 P. 24 (2009)
      13. Motoki Arakawa, N-acetylcysteine and neurodegenerative diseases: Basic and clinical pharmacology, The Cerebellum 6(4):308-14 · February 2007
      14. Anatol Kontush, Vitamin E in Neurodegenerative Disorders: Alzheimer's Disease, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1031(1):249-62 · January 2005 
      15. Barbara Rita Cardoso, Blaine R. Roberts, Ashley I. Bush and Dominic J. Hare, Selenium, selenoproteins and neurodegenerative diseases, Metallomics, 2015, 7, 1213--1228 | 1213
      16. Meredith Spindler, Flint Beal and Claire Henchcliffe Coenzyme Q10 effects in neurodegenerative disease, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 5(1):597-610 · November 2009
      17. Antonietta Fava, Domenico Pirritano, Massimiliano Plastino et al. The Effect of Lipoic Acid Therapy on Cognitive Functioning in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease, Journal of Neurodegenerative Diseases Volume 2013 (2013)
      18. Peter P. Zandi, James C. Anthony et al., Reduced risk of Alzheimer's Disease in Users of Antioxidant Vitamin Supplements: The Cache County Study, Archives of Neurology 2004; 61:82-88 
      19. Sarika Singh Antioxidants as a preventive therapeutic option for age related neurodegenerative diseases, Therapeutic Targets for Neurological Diseases 2015; 2: e592.
      20. Khushwant S. Bhullar and H. P. Vasantha Rupasinghe, Polyphenols: Multipotent Therapeutic Agents in Neurodegenerative Diseases Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Volume 2013 (2013)
      21. Sonia Luz Albarracin, Ben Stab, Zulma Casas and George E. Barreto Effects of natural antioxidants in neurodegenerative disease, Nutritional Neuroscience 15(1):1-9 · January 2012
      22. Giselle P. Lim, Teresa Chu, Fusheng Yang, Walter Beech, Sally A. Frautschy and Greg M. Cole The Curry Spice Curcumin Reduces Oxidative Damage and Amyloid Pathology in an Alzheimer Transgenic Mouse  Journal of Neuroscience 1 November 2001, 21 (21) 8370-8377