Every three seconds, someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a devastating disease: Millions of people, as well as their caregivers, spend years dealing with disabling disorientation and memory loss. Today, it’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. By 2050, an estimated 15 million people in America will have Alzheimer’s—the equivalent of the combined populations of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But after years of failed drug trials, scientists are realizing that the disease begins with structural changes in the brain decades before sufferers show any symptoms. And some researchers now believe that diet might be the most important factor in determining whether those brain changes take place. Listen in now to find out: Can changing what you eat prevent Alzheimer’s?
In 1906, the German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer dissected and stained the brain of a deceased patient. Auguste Deter had died in her 50s, after suffering from memory loss and delusions. In his postmortem examination, Alzheimer noticed that Deter’s brain was clogged with gunk: Agglomerations of proteins had formed pathological structures now called amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Though dementia has been recognized for millennia—the ancient Greek physician Galen called dementia morosis—Alzheimer was the first to see the physical effects of the disease’s most common cause on the brain.