Intermittent Fasting May Improve Alzheimer’s Symptoms and Pathology

Circadian disfunction is common among Alzheimer’s patients, which may play a role in sundowning, a condition involving increased agitation and confusion in the early evening and into the night. A new study has found a diet method commonly used for other health issues may help.

Research recently published in Cell Metabolism looked at the impact of time-restricted feeding, a type of intermittent fasting, on the health of mice with Alzheimer’s. The team found that feeding in this way reduced amyloid deposits, improved sleep and memory, and provided benefits to genes linked with neuroinflammation. If the results can be replicated in people, the researchers say it could help change the progression of the disease.

Two older women eating together at table

Dr. Paula Desplats, senior author and professor in the Department of Neurosciences at UC San Diego, says, “For many years, we assumed that the circadian disruptions seen in people with Alzheimer’s are a result of neurodegeneration, but we’re now learning it may be the other way around — circadian disruption may be one of the main drivers of Alzheimer’s pathology. This makes circadian disruptions a promising target for new Alzheimer’s treatments, and our findings provide the proof-of-concept for an easy and accessible way to correct these disruptions.”

To conduct their study, the researchers allowed mice a six-hour feeding window each day, which is comparable to having humans fast for 14 hours. Other mice were given 24/7 access to food.

The team found that the time-restricted feeding group was less hyperactive at night, followed a more regular sleep schedule, had fewer sleep disturbances, had better memory, and performed better on cognitive assessments. Additionally, genes related to Alzheimer’s and neuroinflammation were expressed differently in these mice, and they had a reduction in amyloid protein accumulations.

Caregiver talks to seniors while they eat

The team hopes the next step is a clinical trial with people, which may then put these methods into practice with patients at home.

Dr. Desplats says, “Circadian disruptions in Alzheimer’s are the leading cause of nursing home placement. Anything we can do to help patients restore their circadian rhythm will make a huge difference in how we manage Alzheimer’s in the clinic and how caregivers help patients manage the disease at home.”

Intermittent fasting has also been linked with other benefits, including reduced brain fog, a lower risk of diabetes, weight loss, reduced blood pressure and inflammation, and even improved sleep in others, not just those with Alzheimer’s.

Senior man eats pasta at home
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