Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease. Is there a Dietary Connection?

Fred Kummerow

By Fred Kummerow, Ph.D.

For the past 70 years I have been researching lipids (fats) and their relationship to heart disease. I found that patients who ate an overabundance of deep fat fried foods and too much polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) produced a chemical change in the composition of their arteries.

When I analyzed the blood of these patients I found that their arteries had an increase of calcification. If these patients continue to eat these oxidized fats, the calcification will completely block their arteries. Heart disease can be prevented if these foods are not consumed.

The oils generally used in deep fat frying, like soybean oil (and other vegetable oils) are readily oxidized because they contain linoleic and linolenic acids. These acids are easily oxidized. Prolonged exposure to air causes them to pick up oxygen and become oxidized. Repeated use just creates more oxidation.

In my laboratory we have fed weanling rats oils that had been heated at various temperatures. The rats that were fed the high temperature fats (365°F / 180°C) had lower growth rates than the rats that were fed lower temperature fats. Any foods that have been deep fried should be avoided, including potato chips and fried food from fast-food restaurants. Oils that are high in linoleic acid and linolenic acid should be avoided. 

My current research is on Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD). I believe that these two diseases are related. I am particularly interested in PD and AD because my wife died of Parkinson's disease and I had a sister-in-law with Alzheimer's disease. 

AD is the most common cause of dementia. During the course of the disease, the chemistry and structure of the brain changes, leading to the death of brain cells. The challenges in AD research today include discovering methods to diagnose patients in an earlier stage and to find new treatments to prevent or cure the disease.

The brain is 81% lipids and over half of these lipids are phospholipids (fatlike, phosphorus-containing substances). PUFAs, which are easily oxidized (combined with oxygen), attach to the phospholipid molecule creating oxidative stress. The damaging consequences of oxidative stress have been implicated in a variety of very different human disorders including arteriosclerosis and diseases of the nervous system. Oxidative stress is an important pathogenic factor in AD. 

I believe, just like heart disease patients, people with AD are eating too many polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and deep fried foods. The American Heart Association and the National Institute of Health have recommended increasing PUFA consumption and decreasing saturated fat intake. Doing this increases free radicals when it is not offset with enough antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables.

Free radical damage accumulates with age. They may cause cells to function poorly or even die. When free radicals overwhelm the body's ability to regulate them, oxidative stress occurs. An excess of oxidative stress can lead to the oxidation of lipids and proteins. 

I believe that my research on preventing heart disease can also be used to prevent brain diseases. Tissue from the brain of someone who had AD is receptive to dyes that do not stain normal tissue suggesting that a chemical change occurred.

I suspect this chemical change occurs during oxidation of PUFAs. I found that PUFAs are easily oxidized in the arterial cells and this could also be a factor in brain cells. The fact that AD is steadily increasing alerts me to the fact that there is something wrong in the diet of these patients. 

I also believe that AD and PD can be alleviated by monitoring the diets of patients with these diseases. A recent study at UCLA has shown that cognitive decline can be reversed by controlling the diet.

Patients eliminated simple carbohydrates and processed food from their diets. They increased their consumption of vegetables and fruits and limited their consumption of fish to non-farmed. The patients increased their sleep to almost 8 hours nightly, exercised 4-5 times per week and reduced their stress with meditation and relaxation.

These patients also fasted three hours between meals and 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. The personalized therapeutic program was used based on the underlying pathogenesis of AD. Nine out of ten showed improvement and improvements have been sustained after two and one half years. This shows that more extensive therapeutic trials are needed. 

The aim of my research is to find a way to prevent AD by analyzing the lipid plasma for two oxysterols. These two oxysterols were present in the plasma of the patients who needed bypass operations and are present in the food supply as frying fats and powdered egg yolk. My hypothesis is based on my studies of preventing calcification of the coronary arteries. I want to show that these two components are in the blood of patients with AD. 

I would like to test the blood of three sets of patients - one set without signs of AD, one set with mild to moderate and one set with severe signs of AD. I want to analyze the lipid plasma of each patient for oxidation. If I find these two compounds in their plasma, I would like to suggest a diet plan and retest in three months.

I believe that by controlling the amount of oxidation and consuming a healthy balanced diet the body can rid itself of the oxidized polyunsaturated fat. If this is the cause of Alzheimer's disease, proper nutrition will end this terrible disease.

The diet plan that I would suggest would be to eat three balanced meals a day. Including 3 serving of protein, 5 -8 servings of fruits and vegetables, 3 servings of whole dairy products, at least one egg daily and eliminating simple carbohydrates and processed foods. Adequate amounts of sleep and exercise would also be encouraged. I then hope to continue this research with Parkinson's disease patients. 

A local hospital is willing to work with me on this research but they do not have the funds needed for this. Funding for research is difficult to find when one does not believe the mainstream ideas. I have found this to be true in the past with my conclusions on cholesterol and trans fats.

In spite of the fact that I have found an answer to heart disease and have finally convinced the FDA to make trans fats non-GRAS (generally recognized as safe), I still am having trouble funding my work. I am actively seeking funding now and if it is not found, I will have to stop the research that my lab is currently doing on Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Fred A. Kummerow, Ph.D. 
Adjunct professor in biochemistry at the University of Illinois

Photo of Dr Kummerow: L. Brian Stauffer

Updated March 2016 


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