Health at stake

Health at stake

Cutting back on fry ups, BBQs, cakes and pastries could cut your risk of dementia, a “compelling” new study has found.

Compounds found in fried meat and eggs have been linked with one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Bacon is particularly problematic and the suspect chemicals are also found in many cakes, biscuits and pastries.

The researchers said reducing intake could prevent the crippling condition, and may even help restore memory that has been lost.

Bath University has been granted research funding into the age-related disease, including assessing the damaged caused by fatty or sugary foods, early diagnosis and if it can be prevented.

British experts said that with drug cures for Alzheimer’s still many years away, attempts to prevent the disease are of extreme importance.

Dr Jean van den Elsen, from the University’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry, said: “In the process of ageing, proteins in the body react with sugars in a process called glycation.

“This damages the protein’s function which in some diseases can trigger complications such as inflammation and premature ageing.

“Our technique uses a special type of gel electrophoresis that detects levels of glycated proteins in blood and tissue samples, which can be used to assess the damage caused by sugars in age-related diseases.”

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Research, from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, also focused on similar compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs.

They are formed when fat, protein and sugar react after being heated and are found in significantly high levels in bacon, sausages, pizzas and burgers.

Frying and grilling is particularly bad, while boiling does not lead to them being made.

The researchers tracked the progress of a group of mice fed food containing levels of AGEs similar to those in a Western diet, at the same time they fed another group half the amount.

Although their calorie intake was the same the study showed only the mice on the AGE-rich died suffered problems with memory, learning and co-ordination as they got older.

They also produced less anti-ageing protein and their brains contained beta-amaloid, a sticky protein considered a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Results of experiments on people were similarly striking.

Tests on healthy pensioners showed that only those who had high amounts of AGEs they had in their diet became more forgetful over the coming months.

More work is needed but the researchers said cutting back on the compounds might help improve mental sharpness and “combat the epidemic” of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the research suggested a balanced diet can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.

He said: “This research is at an early stage, and continued investment in research is crucial to understand the significance of results like this.

“The diseases that cause dementia are complex, and our risk of the condition is likely to be affected by a number of genetic and environmental factors that are not yet fully understood.

“In the meantime, the best evidence suggests that a balanced diet can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check.”

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect some 800,000 Britons and the number is predicted to double in a generation as the population ages.

Existing medicines are of limited use and several highly-promising pills and potions have failed to live up to their promise.

Detecting a range of age-related conditions took a step forward last year after scientists at Bath developed a new technique which could be used in blood tests.

The concept, which has already been proven could help spot diabetes, dementia and Alzheimer’s, has been awarded a grant by the Dunhill Medical Trust.

The technique will look at human brain tissue and blood samples from individuals affected by Alzheimer’s.

The system uses boronic acid labelled with a fluorescent tag that binds to glycated proteins in tissue or blood samples.

The method also allows researchers to distinguish glycated proteins from proteins that have been glycosylated – a normal process in healthy cells where sugars are added using enzymes.

Professor Tony James, from the Department of Chemistry, said: “We will look at different areas of the brain at various stages of the disease to discover the signature biomarkers for AD so that in the future we can detect the condition more accurately.”

Research colleague Professor Stephen Ward, from the University’s Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, added: “Eventually we’re hoping to develop this into a simple blood test for AD and a variety of age-related diseases.”

By Laura Heads