Scientist worries that meat may increase Alzheimer's risk

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February 10, 9:23 AM

by Meg Marquardt, Science News Examiner

Credit AP

A scientist in DC has made a startling claim: there is a chance that humans are increasing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Type II diabetes by eating certain meats.

Misfolded (and thus improperly working) protein fragments known as amyloid fibrils are present in some animals.  This fact is not new; misfolded proteins like amyloid fibrils have long been blamed for prion diseases such as mad cow.  Michael Greger of The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, DC explained “that a biochemical mechanism akin to the replication of similar protein fragments in the brain diseases Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), scrapie, and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, might occur when amyloid fibrils enter brain tissue or the pancreas.” [EurekAlert]

If it is true that humans are assimilating amyloid fibrils that target the brain and pancreas, then we may be inadvertently increasing the risk of AD or diabetes as well.  In humans, a hallmark of AD is the accumulation (or amyloidosis) of the amyloid protein in the brain.   Type II diabetes is discernible by the amyloidosis of a different amyloid protein, Amylin, in the pancreas.  If something is wrong in the body, humans will naturally produce these proteins without the help of tainted meats.  But there is always the chance that such meat is helping the process along.

However, at the moment, there is no need to panic or radically change your diet.  This is merely a tale of cautionary intuition.  Though research shows that “mice fed amyloid-affected beef, for instance, succumb to amyloidosis within weeks,” [EurekAlert] there has been no research done to show similar effects in higher-level animals, let alone humans.  It should also be noted that the only food that is absolutely known to contain such amyloid fibrils is pâté de foie gras, a fatty liver pate which is produced by force-feeding chickens and other poultry.

But Greger raises a very important concern.  As scientists strongly suspect that other diseases can be transmitted from animals via misfolded proteins, investigating the link between meat and AD and diabetes may prove essential.  “Given that amyloidosis can occur in a wide variety of wild as well as domesticated animals, including chickens, cattle, dogs, goats, horses, sheep and, rarely, cats and pigs, Greger suggests that urgent research is now needed to ensure we are not eating food that might one day lead to amyloidosis in people.” [EurekAlert]



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