Amino acids from protein may help reduce the risk of dementia, study finds

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Experts say following a low-protein diet could be worse for consumers’ brain health

Several studies have highlighted the ways that consumers’ diets can impact their dementia risk. Now, researchers from the National Institutes for Quantum Science and Technology have found that intake of a combination of amino acids may help lower the risk of dementia.

“In older individuals, low protein diets are linked to poor maintenance of brain function,” said researcher Dr. Makoto Higuchi. “Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. So, we wanted to understand whether supplementation with essential amino acids can protect the brains of older people from dementia, and if yes, what mechanisms would contribute to this protective effect.” 

How nutrients can support brain function

The researchers conducted several trials of an experiment on mice to better understand how protein impacts long-term brain function, how essential amino acids can prevent cognitive decline, and the protective benefits of amino acids on brain health. 

The first study looked at the impact that protein has on brain health. The researchers learned that when mice followed low-protein diets, they had poorer neural connectivity and experienced greater brain degeneration; both of these may increase the risk for dementia long-term. 

The next experiment put seven essential amino acids -- which the researchers refer to as Amino LP7 -- to the test. Much in the same way that low-protein diets increased the risk of brain degeneration, the study showed that Amino LP7 worked to reduce degeneration and helped to improve the strength of the brain’s neurons. 

The researchers noted that a build-up of a compound called tau is one of the markers of Alzheimer’s disease. While Amino LP7 didn’t completely eliminate tau, overall brain function remained strong. 

The final trial explored how Amino LP7 works to protect the brain from cognitive decline. The researchers learned that the amino acid combination not only improves overall brain function, but it also reduces a key inflammatory marker -- kynurenine. Without this compound, neurons in the brain have a better chance of staying healthy and strong; over time, this helps promote brain health. 

“These results suggest that essential amino acids can help maintain balance in the brain and prevent brain deterioration,” said researchers Dr. Hideaki Sato and Dr. Yuhei Takado. “Our study is the first to report that specific amino acids can hinder the development of dementia. Although our study was performed in mice, it brings hope that amino acid intake could also modify the development of dementia in humans, including Alzheimer’s disease.” 

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