New research conducted in mice and people suggests that consuming heat-processed animal products, such as grilled or broiled meats, increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY, say that heat-processed meats contain high levels of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), compounds that have been linked to the worsening of many chronic diseases, including diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.
AGEs already naturally exist in the body at low levels. But in the study, the researchers found that consuming foods with high levels of AGEs increases the body's level of AGEs, therefore raising the risk of certain health problems.
For the study, the investigators monitored the cognitive health of mice that consumed foods with high levels of AGEs - foods that are commonly found in the Western diet which is high is saturated fat, red meats and refined carbohydrates and low in whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Mice that consumed foods with high levels of AGEs demonstrated high levels of AGEs in their brains, compared with mice that ate a diet low in AGEs.
High levels of AGEs were found to suppress an enzyme called SIRT1 in the blood and brain tissue of the mice. SIRT1 is responsible for regulating nerve, immune and hormonal function. People with metabolic diseases - such as diabetes - and neurodegenerative diseases tend to have suppressed SIRT1.
Mice with high levels of AGEs were found to develop problems with cognitive and motor abilities. They also had deposits of amyloid-beta in their brains - proteins crucial to the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Furthermore, mice with high AGE levels developed metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors tied to a greater risk of diabetes and heart disease.
To see how high levels of AGEs affected humans, the researchers carried out a studied healthy individuals over age of 60, some of whom had high AGE levels in their blood and some who had low levels.
After monitoring these subjects for 9 months, the investigators found that the subjects with high AGE levels in their blood developed cognitive decline, showed SIRT1 suppression in their blood and demonstrated signs of insulin resistance. Individuals with low AGE levels in their blood remained healthy.
The researchers say their findings suggest that following a diet in non-AGE-rich foods could help prevent Alzheimer's disease and Type 2 diabetes.
These new findings again emphasize the importance of not just what we eat, but also how we prepare what we eat.
Foods that are cooked or processed at lower heat levels and in the presence of more water have lower AGEs than those cooked at high temperatures (e.g. grilling, broiling, frying).
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2014.
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