INSIGHT DietBB: Diet for Alzheimer's Prevention?

May 09, 2018

Debora Melo van Lent is a PhD student at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and is researching for the Competence Cluster DietBB. The young scientist is a student trainee of the Nutrition, Metabolism and Dementia Professional Interest Area (PIA) group of the The Alzheimer's Association International Society to Advance Alzheimer's Research and Treatment (ISTAART).

DietBB: Thank you very much for taking the time to do the interview. What exactly are you doing at DZNE? Melo van Lent: I am a nutritional epidemiologist and since October 2015 a doctoral student at DZNE, in the working group of Professor Michael Wagner. There I investigate the effect of nutrition in relation to dementia and dementia related outcomes.
DietBB: And how do you investigate a possible connection between nurtition and dementia?
Melo van Lent: I am working with data from two cohort studies: the longitudinal German Study on Ageing, Cognition and Dementia in Primary Care Patients (AgeCoDe) study and the DZNE – Longitudinal Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Study (DELCODE) study. AgeCoDe is a multicentre cohort study in Germany that collects data on cognitive performance and dementia in participants over 75 years of age. The DELCODE study is a prospective cohort study involving individuals with an increased risk of dementia.
In AgeCoDe I investigate nutritional factors and possible relationships with dementia from the mico- to macro-level.We are currently investigating the associations between micronutrients, such as vitamin D, and dementia risk and cognitive decline. In addition, we are also investigating the association between single foods and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) dementia, cognitive decline and memory decline. In DELCODE I examine nutritional patterns in relation to cognition, brain structure and AD dementia biomarkers, such as the beta amyloid.
Investigating the association between dietary patterns and biomarkers of AD dementia is new and there are not many cohort studies investigating this. I am very excited about the results and the planned follow-up examinations.
DietBB: You are co-author of a study including eleven cohort studies. What was the purpose of this investigation?
Melo van Lent: This work was a collaboration with international research groups, led by the genetic epidemioloy department of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, to which our working group contributed data from the AgeCoDe study. In two discovery cohorts 15 metabolites were found to be associated with general cognitive ability and/or dementia. The analyses were replicated by 11 cohorts and meta-analysed (n=22,000). Among other things, it was found that a high plasma level of docosahexaenoic acid was associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
DietBB: How did it happen that you were involved in contribution to that paper?
Melo van Lent: PD Dr. Alfredo Ramirez, who is also part of the Competence Cluster DietBB, asked me and Holger Wagner to carry out the analysis for AgeCoDe study. In addition, I have been a visiting researcher at the epidemiology department of the Erasmus Medical Center.
DietBB: There are numerous studies that suggest that a regular consumption of certain foods, such as fatty fish, could have a preventive effect on the development of dementia. Will there be an "anti-dementia diet" in the near or distant future?
Melo van Lent:
Well there are several research groups working on a dementia-preventive diet. The research group of Prof Martha Clare Morris, a key figure in the field of nutrition and dementia research, has recently published the association between the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) and cognitive decline and dementia. This diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), where regular consumption of fish, olive oil, berries and green-leaved vegetables is recommended.
I am highly interested in investigating dietary patterns in relation to dementia related outcomes. In spring 2017 I was able to visit the Framingham Heart Study and investigate the MIND diet in the research group of Prof. Sudha Seshadri. Here in Germany I will use this research experience to investigate this dietary pattern in the DELCODE study.
DietBB: You also have a responsible and time-consuming honorary position. Can you tell more about what you are doing?
Melo van Lent: I am not only a member of ISTAART but also a student trainee of the Nutrition Metabolism and Dementia Professional Interest Area (PIA) group. In this group experts have the opportunity to network and to start collaborations. My tasks are, for example, to take part in monthly telephone conferences and to compile an update of newly published studies every 3 months for our PIA members. I recently was involved in a cross- PIA manuscript that will be published soon, and I am currently involved in the first white paper from the PIA itself.
DietBB: Mrs Melo van Lent, thank you for the conversation and I wish you continued success!

Text and interview: Dr. Maike Gutmann, DGE (TA6)