The brain may be up to 73% water, but protein intake may be more important in cognitive health than previously thought. Low levels of brain inflammation are linked to healthier eating patterns—and even the intake of cereal grains—which helps to reduce the risk of cognitive declines and neurodegeneration. There’s also some new evidence supporting amino acid intake for neuroprotection.
Researchers based in Japan at the National Institutes for Quantum Sciences and Technology revealed that diets low in protein are also a leading cause of poor cognitive health. Based on past animal studies, we know that low protein diets can actually speed up neurodegeneration. Since amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are common in supplements and supplementary protein powders, the scientists were most interested in finding out exactly which amino acids have the most protective effects.
With neurodegenerative diseases, plaques form in the brain from the abnormal protein cells called Tau aggregates. These abnormal cells fold and tangle with one another and lead to the formation of plaques. Feeding mice a low protein diet exacerbated these Tau aggregates and reduced the ability of the neural cells to communicate with one another.
A formula of seven amino acids nicknamed “Amino LP7” containing Leucine, Phenylalanine, Lysine, Isoleucine, Histidine, Valine, and Tryptophan helped keep mice neural cells from dying even though the plaques remained. Amino LP7 also worked to reduce inflammatory cells from entering the brain which often is responsible for causing a cascade of inflammation in which the inflammatory cells harm neurons.
By reducing the amount of neurons which died, connectivity between the neural network was improved and brain function enhanced. The researchers are eagerly awaiting follow up studies in humans to determine if this can be replicated and help preserve brain function even in the presence of conditions where the plaques have already formed.
Hideaki Sato, Yuhei Takado, Sakiko Toyoda, et al. Neurodegenerative processes accelerated by protein malnutrition and decelerated by essential amino acids in a tauopathy mouse model. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (43) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd5046