Strawberries could help protect the elderly from Alzheimer’s

Elderly people who eat strawberries regularly could help to protect themselves from Alzheimer’s by reducing inflammation. That’s the finding of a new study conducted at RUSH University in Chicago, which indicates an easy lifestyle change to implement.

The researchers analysed the brains of 575 deceased patients with an average age of 91. None of the participants had Alzheimer’s, but those who had often eaten strawberries had fewer tau proteins in their brains.

It’s thought clusters of these proteins are a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s developing in individuals. Strawberries contain large quantities of a plant pigment called pelargonidin, which is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.

If an elderly loved one is not a fan of strawberries, you could encourage them to eat raspberries, plums, radishes or kidney beans instead. The rich red colour of these foods is a clue they’re also good sources of pelargonidin.

While the results are promising, the scientists added the caveat that the study was observational and could therefore not categorically say it was the strawberries that made a difference.

The researchers tracked the diets of the individuals for 20 years before they died, asking each of them to fill out surveys annually. They also underwent cognitive testing every year to determine how well their memories and problem solving skills were performing.

As well as noticing a correlation between eating strawberries and low concentrations of tau proteins, post-mortems revealed no link between the proteins and the APOE-4 gene. It’s this genetic factor that is thought to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in many people.

Dr Julie Schneider, neuropathologist and lead author, said: “We suspect the anti-inflammatory properties of pelargonidin may decrease overall neuroinflammation, which may reduce cytokine production.”

An inflammatory response is triggered when proteins known as cytokines are produced, so cutting down on them can be beneficial for the body. Stress, infection and a lack of sleep are also factors that can cause inflammation in the brain and have previously been identified as Alzheimer’s risk factors.

More research is required to understand the link between nutrition and the development of Alzheimer’s. Since there is currently no cure for the condition, healthy eating is recommended to prevent its development.

Previous research has suggested a Mediterranean diet containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is a good idea. Meanwhile, red meat and processed foods should be kept to a minimum.

Some 57.4million people across the world are living with dementia and this is predicted to rise to 152.8million by the year 2050. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is often characterised by memory loss, confusion and behavioural changes.

Scientists globally continue to conduct research into dementia and possible treatments. While some drugs show promise, so far they have only been shown to slow the progression of the disease as opposed to stopping it entirely.