With growing epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease and its potential for impact at both an individual and societal level, great efforts go into research towards prevention and cure. The ability to slow or reverse the disease would make the headlines, yet prevention would be a more worthy goal if at all possible. Researchers from the Arizona State University -Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center (NDRC) aimed at either of these goals or both with studies that looked at the effect of choline intake on a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
They reported that the genetically programmed mice showed both improvement in a memory test and on microscopic evaluation of their dissected brains after a diet of increased choline intake. Choline is a safe nutrient found in a variety of foods yet deficient in many diets. The methylation cycle found in our metabolism can produce a moderate amount of the nutrient if genetic abnormalities are not present. With low dietary intake, poor methylation cycle function, or genetic mutations hindering its production we may not get enough choline for making a neurotransmitter acetylcholine or a cell membrane fatty acid called phosphatidylcholine.
The same researchers had reported earlier in the year that choline provided to mouse mothers during pregnancy benefitted their offspring. In the current study, they provided a much higher concentration of choline to adult mice and measured the effects. The mice fed a diet enriched with choline performed statistically better on a water maze test that evaluated whether the mice could remember where a safety platform could be found. The mice were later euthanized, and their brains were evaluated for changes in the amount of amyloid plaque in their hippocampus. The high choline diet mice showed fewer amyloid plaques.
Amyloid plaque buildup appears to play a major role in Alzheimer’s disease development and progression. The hippocampus area of the brain serves a primary role in memory for animals of all types.
Further evaluation suggested that the changes were at least partially mediated through an immune mechanism separate from acetylcholine or phosphatidylcholine production. Immune cells called microglia reside in the brain and protect it from invaders. While normally protective, when overstimulated or chronically stimulated, the microglia contribute to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The choline interacts with these cells through two different microglial receptors. One receptor downregulates microglial response and is suspected to be the mechanism which lowered the amyloid plaque progression.
With increasing Alzheimer’s disease rates, the promise of a simple dietary factor making such a difference excites functional medicine doctors like myself. As I care for patients, especially those on a plant-based diet which is naturally lower in choline, I guide them towards a balanced diet that includes adequate choline and methylation cycle B vitamins used in choline production. Another tool in helping others live healthier more abundant lives.
Ramon Velazquez, Eric Ferreira, Sara Knowles, Chaya Fux, Alexis Rodin, Wendy Winslow, Salvatore Oddo. Lifelong choline supplementation ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease pathology and associated cognitive deficits by attenuating microglia activation. Aging Cell, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/acel.13037
Thanks to Science Daily:
Arizona State University. “Common nutrient supplementation may hold the answers to combating Alzheimer’s disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 September 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190927122526.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.