According to a study in mice, children whose mothers develop Alzheimer's as they age could be protected by a high-fat diet during pregnancy.
More than 35.6 million people worldwide are affected by Alzheimer's, and 7.7 million new cases are diagnosed each year, according to WHO, which warns of the growing number of people living with the disease. Indeed, the number of people affected should double every 20 years to reach 152 million in 2050. However, researchers may have found a way to avoid the occurrence of this affliction in people at risk. In fact, while people whose mothers have Alzheimer's are more likely to develop the disease, a high-fat diet during pregnancy could protect them, a new study published August 27 in the journal reveals. Molecular Psychiatry.
"In humans, we know that people whose mothers develop Alzheimer's disease after the age of 65 are at increased risk of developing the disease at about the same age", explains Dr. Pratico of Temple University in the United States in preamble of the paper. Until now, no gene responsible for supposed maternal transmission could be identified. This suggests that environmental factors such as lifestyle or appropriate nutrition during pregnancy, during which the mother and baby interact closely, could have a significant influence on the child's risk of develop the disease later.
"Better learning and memory skills"
To better understand the unique relationship between maternal Alzheimer's and risk in children, he and his colleagues are interested in mice modified to develop the disease and have submitted some to a high-fat diet throughout their pregnancy . After birth and during breastfeeding, mothers switched to a conventional diet.
When the mice were 11 months old, the researchers gave them behavioral tests. "Surprisingly, we found that animals whose mothers received a high-fat diet during gestation had better learning and memory skills than their counterparts born to mothers who received a regular diet during pregnancy." Dr. Praticò.
Lower levels of beta-amyloid
In detail, infants of mothers on high fat diets showed a significant improvement in synaptic function compared to others. Synapses are the places where neurons gather to relay information. They play a vital role in learning and training memory.
Moreover, these children had lower levels of beta-amyloid, an abnormal protein that accumulates in neurons, contributing to nerve cell dysfunction and possibly significant memory and learning disorders.
Then, looking for the possible mechanisms behind this positive effect, the researchers found that the offspring of mothers who had a high-fat diet had reduced levels of three genes involved in Alzheimer's: beta-secretase, tau and pathological gene CDK5 tau regulator.
FOXP2 protein in play
In the early stages of development, the high-fat diet of mothers had disabled these three genes by increasing the activity of FOXP2 protein. The latter would thus protect children from the subsequent decline of brain function and Alzheimer's development.
Thus, "our results suggest that, to be effective, the prevention of Alzheimer's disease is likely to start very early in life, during pregnancy," says Dr. Praticò. "Diet at this specific stage of life can have critical, but underestimated, long-term impacts on brain health," he concludes. He and his colleagues now plan to compare the effects of a high-fat diet with diets high in sugar and protein and Mediterranean-style diets.
Nearly 225,000 new Alzheimer's cases diagnosed each year in France
Not long ago, researchers showed that it can protect older people from cognitive decline. According to them, this diet rich in vegetables, olive oil, whole grain cereals and fermented dairy products, would indeed improve connectivity of the brain and performance on cognitive tests.
Today in France, nearly 3 million people are directly or indirectly affected by Alzheimer's, according to the association France Alzheimer. Nearly 225,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and by 2020, the country is expected to have 1,275,000 patients, the association worries.