The Spanish Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce has agreed to fund a four-year Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona project that aims to design functional foods for the prevention of Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular diseases.
Eight companies, led by La Morella Nuts, are also involved, as well as six departments at four Spanish universities and a technology centre.
No study to date has investigated the effect of functional foods on Alzheimer's, says a clinical researcher from the project, Dr Mercè Boada Rovira of the Catalan Institute of Applied Neurosciences. But she told NutraIngredients.com that "it is known that there are natural products that can improve memory."
"It is thought that fruit and vegetables can help to lower blood pressure and that the anti-oxidants found in them, including vitamins C and E, could prevent heart disease, lessening the risk of dementia as well as directly affecting potentially brain-damaging free radicals," said professor Clive Ballard, director of research for British Charity, the Alzheimer's Society.
Alzheimer's prevention is an urgent consideration for governments. According to a 2005 report for Alzheimer's Disease International, five million people suffer from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in Europe, and the incidence is predicted to increase 100 percent by 2040. Similar estimates for the developing world predict a staggering 300 and 400 percent rise in incidence.
If this comes to pass, it will take a tremendous toll on health care budgets.
As part of the Spanish study, more than 50 doctors and technologists will work on developing new productive methodologies with the end goal of improving health and reducing the suffering from cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer's. Another aim of the research is to increase food safety.
Diet has been linked to Alzheimer's in previous studies. For instance, a recent US study undertaken at Columbia University Medical Center found that eating a Mediterranean diet - rich in cereals, fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and olive oil - could reduce a person's risk of Alzheimer's by 40 percent.