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New England News

Lenox Alzheimer’s Event Explores Impact Of Diet On Disease

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Americans are living longer than ever. But advanced age can bring new health challenges. A symposium on Alzheimer’s in Lenox, Massachusetts this week will explore the link between the disease and diet.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes the brain to waste away, and is one of the most common causes of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association says it’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s on the rise. Between 2000 and 2017, Alzheimer related deaths have risen by 145 percent, with around 6 million Americans living with it today. That number is projected to more than double by 2050. While no cure for the disease exists, some health care professionals say that they’ve found ways to mitigate it – including some in Berkshire County.

“The event is called Preventing Alzheimer’s Through Plant-Based Nutrition," said Edward Ekso, the founder and CEO of Pittsfield-based Berkshire Holistic Associates, the group behind the event. “It’s a free community event, and we’ve designed it to encourage healthy lifestyles to prevent and manage disease and connect participants to local Berkshire, national, and international resources.”

The Alzheimer’s Association says that 1 in 10 people over 65 in the United States has the disease, making it a pressing concern in Berkshire County. A 2015 study by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission says that “the majority of Berkshire County municipalities will have populations that are 60 percent or more residents aged 50 or over” by 2030. Esko says county residents need look no further than their plates to find ways to diminish their chances of getting the disease.

“Unfortunately the modern diet, the way it’s patterned presently – high in saturated animal fat – is not good for the entire body, but especially as we get older, for the central nervous system," said Esko. "So what we see forming in Alzheimer’s are what are called amyloid plaque, which are very similar to the plaques that develop in the circulator system in the case of heart disease.”

Esko says the two threats might share a common cause.

“So very simply, the idea that we can prevent heart disease by eating a plant-based diet and minimizing or avoiding the so-called offending foods also applies to Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia,” he told WAMC.

Dr. Mark Pettus is director of population health, wellness, and community care for Berkshire Health Systems. He’s the symposium’s keynote speaker. He says research indicates that our gut might be the best way to chart exactly how much diet impacts Alzheimer’s.

“So what we’re finding is that in individuals with cognitive decline – Alzheimer’s – they tend to have much less diversity of the biome," said Pettus. "So instead of having a thousand organism that represent a very balanced and diverse ecosystem, no one particular group more abundant than the other, people with Alzheimer’s tend to have a far reduced number of species.”

Pettus says that with a plant-based diet, risk factors for Alzheimer’s like inflammation, high insulin, and that limited microbiome could be reduced.

“There tends to be very high nutrient content, there tends to be a reduction in inflammation for people who consume more of those foods, there tends to me a much lower insulin and diabetes risk for people who consume those foods, and because those foods tend to have a higher fiber content – and fiber appears to be one of the central drivers of diversity of the biome – all three of those risks, categorical risk tend to be very favorably influenced,” said the doctor.

Preventing Alzheimer’s Through Plant-Based Nutrition begins at 2 p.m. Friday at the Eastover Estate in Lenox, Massachusetts.

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