Experts dispute meat and Alzheimer’s link

The Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) has hit back at a new US study which claims grilled, fried or barbecued meat could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine fed mice high levels of advanced glycation end (AGE) products, which are linked to diseases such as type-2 diabetes, and the outcome showed a build-up of harmful proteins in the brain.

The study claimed that AGE products in the diet could help increase the development of dementia and also linked the disease to cheese, eggs, white bread, pasta and sugary foods.

However, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the MAP stressed the importance of red meat being a key source of “highly bioavailable nutrients”, which include zinc and iron.

She said: “A study evaluating data from big UK dietary surveys indicates that UK diets for people of all ages can be worryingly low in nutrients normally found in meat, including not only iron and zinc but also vitamin A, vitamin D, magnesium, selenium and potassium.”

Ruxton added that dementia was caused by many factors, including age and genetic inheritance, and that metabolic syndrome can be caused by obesity and physical inactivity.

“The influence on health of end products in foods, such as advanced glycation products (AGEs) evaluated in this very preliminary study, requires clarification from further studies as the links have not been proven or validated,” she added.

Conflicting evidence

Meanwhile a study published in 2008, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division, partly funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, claimed consuming more vitamin B12 through foods such as meat and fish could help prevent dementia.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said: “Although these findings add to some earlier evidence linking a decrease in the SIRT1 protein to Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, it’s important to note that the people in this study did not have dementia. This subject has so far not been well-studied in people, and we don’t yet know whether the amount of AGEs in our diet might affect our risk of dementia.

“This research is at an early stage, and continued investment in research is crucial to understanding the significance of results like this. The diseases that cause dementia are complex, and our risk of the condition is likely to be affected by a number of genetic and environmental factors that are not yet fully understood.”

Ridley stated that the best evidence to reduce risk suggests a balanced diet and regular exercise, which contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

“There is also emerging evidence that nutrients commonly found in red meat may play a role in supporting cognitive function, immune health, and addressing iron deficiency,” MAP added.

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