Dementia is an umbrella term for several age-related disorders that can cause cognitive problems such as dysfunction in communication, attention, memory, reasoning, or problem solving; it includes Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and fronto-temporal dementia, for example. About ten million people are diagnosed with dementia every year. There are some treatments for specific disorders, but no cures, and the causes are complex and not well understood. But researchers know that a lack of protein in the diet may increase the risk of dementia, and elderly people with dementia tend to eat low levels of protein.
New research reported in Science Advances has suggested that an amino acid supplement containing seven essential amino acids, which are building blocks for proteins in the body, can prevent brain cell death, degeneration in brain function, and slow the development of dementia. The supplement, called Amino LP7, contains leucine, phenylalanine, lysine, isoleucine, histidine, valine, and tryptophan.
In this study, the researchers assessed the impact of a low-protein diet in an animal model of Alzheimer's disease; they found that degeneration accelerated and neuronal connections were dysfunctional compared to the same mice on a normal diet. When these mice were given Amino LP7, those effects were reversed.
When the brains of these mice were examined, the researchers found that there weren't as many dead neurons in the Amino LP7-treated mice. Tau plaques, considered a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, were still there, however. Most Alzheimer's treatments are aimed at these plaques, noted senior study author Dr. Makoto Higuchi of the National Institutes for Quantum Sciences and Technology. "However, we have shown that it is possible to overcome this Tau deposition and prevent brain atrophy via supplementation with Amino LP7."
Additional work investigated the genetic impact of the LP7 treatment. Gene expression linked to inflammation was reduced, and a trigger of inflammation called kynurenine did not enter the brain; inflammatory immune cells weren't able to attack neurons. Once again, amino LP7 helped relieve the problem by improving neuronal connections and survival.
Though this study used a mouse model the researchers are hopeful that amino acids have a protective effect in human brains as well.
"Our study is the first to report that specific amino acids can hinder the development of dementia," said study co-authors Dr. Hideaki Sato and Dr. Yuhei Takado.
This work could improve the treatment of dementia with a simple, straightforward and easy diet modification that doesn't present a high risk of side effects, provided that a healthy source of protein is available and selected by elderly individuals. The Amino LP7 supplement is now patent pending, and may also help lower the rate of dementia as populations age worldwide.