A new Australian study reveals that eating a diet high in protein may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, was conducted by researchers at Edith Cowan University’s School of Medical and Health Sciences near Perth, Australia.

Researchers looked at the diets of 541 cognitively normal older adults, sampled from the larger Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) study of aging. They examined fibre and protein intake and found that the participants with a higher protein intake, around 118 grams per day, had lower levels of amyloid-beta (Aβ), a precursor of Alzheimer’s. The participants who consumed the lowest amounts of protein, around 54 grams per day, were 12 times more likely to have higher levels of Aβ in their brains.

One of the lead researchers, Dr. Binosha Fernando of the Centre of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Care at Edith Cowan noted that this was the first study to examine the relationship between protein consumption and Aβ.

“The research clearly demonstrates that the more protein eaten the lower the chances someone has of having a high Aβ burden on the brain, which corresponds to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the future,” she said.

The researchers can’t say for certain why protein and Aβ are connected, but suggest that high protein diets are associated with lower blood pressure. High blood pressure is known to increase the risk for Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.

Although the connection is unclear, Dr. Fernando says it isn’t difficult to consume the necessary amount of protein to potentially delay or prevent the development of Alzheimer’s. “To get the protective effect that we have demonstrated, you need to be eating about 120g of protein each day, which isn’t too hard.”

“For example, if you had a mixed bean and tuna salad for lunch, 100g of chicken and salad for dinner and snacked on a handful of peanuts during the day, you would be getting very close to enough protein to lower your chances of having a high Aβ burden in your brain.”

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