Real science logo by Douglas Blane



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St. Paul, Minn. Embargoed for release: 12-Nov-2007 16:00 Eastern US Time


Don't forget the fats

A diet rich in fish, omega-3 oils, fruit and vegetables may lower your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But eating omega-6 oils could increase your chances of getting memory problems.


These are the conclusions of a study published in the November 13, 2007 issue of Neurology.


Researchers studied the diets of 8,085 men and women over the age of 65 who did not have dementia at the start of the study. Over the next four years, 183 of them developed Alzheimer’s disease. A further 98 developed another type of dementia.


The study found that people who regularly ate oils rich in omega-3 lowered their risk of dementia by 60%, compared to people who did not. Omega-3 rich oils include flaxseed and walnut oil.


People who ate fruits and vegetables daily, the study found, also lowered their risk of dementia, this time by 30% compared to those who did not.


The scientists also looked at the effects of fish. They found that people who ate fish at least once a week had a 35% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They had a 40% lower risk of dementia.


But these figures were true only for people who did not carry the gene apolipoprotein E4 - which is also known as ApoE4. This is a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.


Most people do not carry the ApoE4 gene, said study author Pascale Barberger-Gateau of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, in Bordeaux. "So these results could have considerable implications in terms of public health."


More research is needed before nutritional recommendations can be produced, he added. This would "identify the optimal quantity and combination of nutrients which could be protective".


Another finding was about the effect of a diet that was unbalanced, in the sense that omega-6 rich oils were eaten regularly, but not omega-3 rich oils or fish. People with this kind of diet were found to be twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those who didn’t eat omega-6 rich oils. This was even if they did not carry the ApoE4 gene. Omega-6 rich oils include sunflower and grape seed oil.


The study did not find any association between consuming corn oil, peanut oil, lard, meat or wine and lowering the risk of dementia.


The study has uncovered eating patterns that seem to lower a person’s risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s, said Barberger-Gateau. But more research is needed to "understand the mechanisms of these nutrients involved in these apparently protective foods.”


More help with words








What's it all about?

  1. Eating certain foods can reduce your chances of getting dementia or Alzheimer's according to this new study. Name two of these foods.
  2. Eating which type of oil could increase your chances of memory problems?
  3. How many people were studied?
  4. How many of them in total developed Alzheimer's or another type of dementia during the study?
  5. Give one example of a food containing omega-3 oils.
  6. People who ate foods rich in omega-3 oils reduced their risk of dementia by how much?
  7. People who ate plenty of fruit and vegetables reduced their risk of dementia by how much?
  8. People who ate plenty of fish reduced their risk of dementia by how much?
  9. So which of these three reduced the risk most?
  10. These figures were only true for which group of people?
  11. Does this group include most of us?
  12. In your own words what does "considerable implications in terms of public health" mean?
  13. The study also looked at the effects of eating omega-6 oils. What was the main finding?
  14. Do the scientists go as far as recommending that people change their eating habits because of these findings?
  15. Do you think they should?
  16. Justify your last answer. This means if you said 'yes' explain why, and if you said 'no' explain why not.
  17. Try to explain in just a few sentences how the scientists might have got the following information: a) What each person in the study ate regularly; b) Which of the people in the study got dementia or Alzheimer's?
  18. What other piece of information did they need to reach some of the conclusions?
  19. Can you think how they might have got that information?
  20. If you were the scientists what research would you like to do next?



More learning and teaching resources

Classroom activities to improve understanding of risk:

Risk assessment activity

Classroom activities on fats: (1), (2), (3)




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