Are You Cooking Your Way to Alzheimer’s?
Scientists have known for some time that people with Alzheimer’s disease have higher levels of chemical compounds called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) in their bodies. Now, new research suggests that the way you cook your food may have a significant impact on your own levels of these potentially harmful compounds.
AGEs are formed when sugar molecules link up with proteins and other molecules. The large molecules encourage increased oxidative stress, and promote inflammation in the body. Some experts even think that gradual accumulation of these AGE compounds is an underlying cause of aging itself.
These molecules are dysfunctional; they have a tendency to rob other molecules of key components, rendering them dysfunctional, too. The body has trouble removing them, and as they pile up visible effects result, such as elastic fibers in the skin that become brittle (resulting in wrinkles and sagging skin), and other effects.
AGEs also help promote the transport of a certain type of protein into the brain. Accumulation of this problematic protein, beta amyloid, is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Although some AGEs are formed in the body, they are also consumed in the diet. They’re especially abundant in foods that have been cooked at high temperatures, so scientists wondered if cooking temperatures and various diets could play a role in one’s exposure to these compounds, and thus increase one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The short answer is yes; high-temperature cooking methods play a significant role in a given person’s levels of AGEs in the body. Because AGEs are formed when proteins cross-link with sugar molecules, meat is a prime source of AGEs. Other likely contributors in the typical diet include vegetable oils (which have undergone high heating), cheese and fish. Foods such as cereals/grains, eggs, fruit, legumes, milk, nuts, starchy roots, and vegetables are less likely to contribute to AGE totals, probably because these foods are usually not cooked at high temperatures, or because people eat proportionally fewer of these foods.
In any event, it may be a good idea to use gentle, lower-heat cooking methods whenever possible. Try steaming, sautéing, poaching, or slow roasting to minimize your exposure to these pro-aging AGEs.
According to Drs. Jaime Uribarri and Weijing Cai of The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “…clinical studies have shown that subjects with higher blood AGE levels, in turn resulting from high-AGE diets, are more likely to develop cognitive decline on follow up…The findings point to an easily achievable goal that could reduce the risk of dementia through the consumption of non-AGE-rich foods, for example, foods that are cooked or processed under lower heat levels and in the presence of more water, raising the importance of not just what we eat, but also how we prepare what we eat.”
Perrone L, Grant WB. Observational and ecological studies of dietary advanced glycation end products in national diets and Alzheimer’s disease incidence and prevalence. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, February 2015 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-140720