Choline, a necessary nutrient that is commonly found in many foods has been shown to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease in mice and even pass on the benefits to later generations. This new study was published January 8, 2019 in the NATURE journal Molecular Psychiatry by researchers at the Biodesign Institute at the University of Arizona. They discovered that the nutrient choline may be a simple and safe treatment for Alzheimer’s and may be able to help stop the devastating effects of severe memory loss.
Mice were bred to have Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, but when they were given high amounts of choline in their diet, their off spring showed improvements in spatial memory, in comparison to those mice who only received a normal amount of choline while they were in the womb before they were born. In fact, those that received a high amount of supplemental choline were able to pass on the protective benefits of choline against Alzheimer’s dementia to the next generation, even though the offspring did not receive high amounts of choline in their diets. The researchers think that the most likely reason is that the offspring inherited modifications to their genes that were from the high amount of choline in the diets of their mothers. This has also led the researchers to wonder whether other diseases that babies inherit from their mothers like fetal alcohol syndrome and obesity could also be modified by a nutrient like choline.
How Choline Protects the Brain Against Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
Choline lowers levels of homocysteine, a protein that can be neurotoxic (poisonous to the brain) that can lead to the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) such as the formation of beta amyloid plaques and neurodegeneration. Homocysteine has been shown to double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and people with AD have raised levels of homocysteine in their blood. Choline actually transforms the dangerous homocysteine into a different chemical called methionine, which is actually beneficial to the body.
Choline in high supplemental levels lowers the activation of microglia, the cells that clear debris out of the brain. While microglia are crucial for good brain health by cleaning the brain, the microglia can get out of control, and this is especially noticeable in Alzheimer’s disease. As the microglia become over active this leads to inflammation in the brain, which can eventually lead to the death of neurons. Choline works to lower the activation of microglia which offers a second way that choline protects the brain from the characteristics of AD.
Choline is an essential nutrient that is made in the human body, but it must also be obtained from food. It is mainly found in foods that come from animals and certain beans, especially soy beans, nuts and seeds and cruciferous vegetables. It has been found necessary for good brain health, but it is best to try to obtain it by eating more foods that are rich in choline rather than taking a supplement. Taking too much choline has also been associated with some very bad side effects, so no one should take choline as a supplement without consulting with their doctor.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a Fact Sheet on Choline that lists the following foods as being rich in choline beginning with the highest one which is liver followed by egg, beef, soybeans, chicken, fish, shiitake mushrooms and more.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease that primarily attacks seniors over 65 that leads to dementia with extreme memory loss, personality changes, psychiatric behavior problems and an inability to carry out simple every day tasks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over five million Americans are believed to be afflicted with AD and the numbers are expected to rise dramatically as many more people are turning 65. Alzheimer’s takes a tremendous emotional and financial toil on the families of people afflicted with AD. In fact, most of them are being cared for by voluntary, unpaid caregivers who are usually family members. The costs of Alzheimer’s disease are projected to climb to over $20 trillion in the next 40 years.
No Cure has been Found for AD
In spite of all the massive research that is being carried out, a cure has not been found and neither has a way been found to slow down or prevent the downward decline into full dementia. Thus, researchers are also exploring lifestyle factors, especially diet, to see how eating habits may protect or contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s. It is a fact, that people living in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have lower levels not only of dementia, but also cardiovascular disease and diabetes. For this reason a lot of research has taken place concerning various diets, especially the Mediterranean Diet.
Also, while many drugs succeed to treat mice and other animals of Alzheimer’s disease, these have not worked with humans.
Alzheimer’s is now believed to be a disease that begins years before any symptoms show up, but by the time there are symptoms there has already been massive brain damage, so research is also focusing on a way to detect it as early as possible in order to find some kind of intervention to halt it in is progressive downward path.
Alzheimer’s may Lead to the Need for Long-term Skilled Nursing Care
If your loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and needs long-term skilled nursing care, choose a facility that has a memory care unit like the Van Duyn Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse New York.
More research with choline in human clinical trials is needed to see if choline will benefit humans with AD as much as it benefited mice. In the mean time it cannot hurt to make sure you and your loved one are getting enough choline-rich foods. Do not take choline as a supplement without consulting with your doctor, as large amounts of choline have very bad side effects and can do more harm than good.