Plasma Fatty Acids, Antioxidants and Alzheimer's Risk

Majken Jensen, PhD Harvard University


Diet plays an important role in the development of many chronic diseases. However, we still don’t have a good understanding of which dietary components are most important for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In this project, we will identify key healthy dietary patterns that can form the foundation of dietary recommendations to lower Alzheimer’s risk. This is important because diet is among the risk factors that are modifiable; thus we can change our behavior and lower our risk of this devastating disease. 

Project Details

We know that what we eat plays a role for health and disease. For Alzheimer's specifically, scientific evidence is limited and, so far, no authoritative dietary guidelines exist for the prevention of AD. In smaller studies, plant-based diets and diets rich in vegetable oils, berries, and nuts are associated with lower risk of AD and slower cognitive decline. These findings underscore the need for further rigorous studies that use blood levels, rather than self-reported dietary habits, to indicate nutritional intake of fatty acids and antioxidants.

We will measure a whole spectrum of blood levels of a variety of fatty acids and antioxidants in participants from the prospective Gingko Evaluation of Memory Study (GEMS) who were followed for 8 years. To elucidate the associations with risk of AD or other cognitive trajectories, we will measure 42 fatty acids and 10 antioxidants in 1600 participants. In a smaller subset of 180 participants we will also relate these blood biomarkers to changes in brain structure and function (MRI) and amyloid beta (Aβ) deposition (PiB) .

Because it is possible to change the plasma free fatty acid and antioxidant profile by changing dietary intake, our work may highlight minimally invasive markers for use as relevant new targets for preventive interventions. The findings of this research may thus lead directly to new strategies for the prevention of dementia.