Physical activity and a healthier diet may help prevent the formation of plaques and tangles in the brain linked to Alzheimer's disease, UCLA researchers say. Photo by Pressmaster/Shutterstock
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- A healthy diet, physical activity and normal body mass index have been connected to overall better health, with a new study at the University of California Los Angeles suggesting the combination of healthful choices may help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers at UCLA found eating well and being active can reduce the incidence of plaque and tangles in the brain associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
The buildup of beta-amyloid plaques in the space between nerve cells in the brain and knotted threads of tau protein in brain cells are indicators of the condition, and the delay of their formation in patients inclined to develop Alzheimer's could help in its prevention.
The researchers said they were surprised to be able to detect the differences in both plaque and tangle formation, but an experimental type of PET scan designed to measure for both allowed their observations.
"This work lends key insight not only into the ability of patients to prevent Alzheimer's disease, but also physicians' ability to detect and image these changes," said Dr. David Merrill, a researcher at UCLA and lead author of the study, said in a press release.
For the study, researchers scanned 44 adults between the age of 40 and 85 with mild memory changes but not dementia, also collecting information on BMI, exercise level, diet and other aspects of lifestyle.
In most cases, the researchers report more physical activity and a more normal BMI were linked to lower levels of either plaque or tangles, as was closer adherance to a Mediterranean-type diet.
The Mediterranean diet -- high in fruit, vegetables, legumes and fish, with lower levels of meat and dairy compared to Western diets -- has been linked to overall greater health, including better heart health and lower rates of obesity.
Researchers say the next step will be to examine the effects of improving diet and exercise on cognitive health and memory loss, noting the current study is another suggestion that living a healthier life may have its benefits.
"The study reinforces the importance of living a healthy life to prevent Alzheimer's, even before the development of clinically significant dementia," Merrill said.