Western diet as a trigger of Alzheimer's disease: From metabolic syndrome and systemic inflammation to neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration

Ageing Res Rev. 2021 Sep:70:101397. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2021.101397. Epub 2021 Jun 30.


An excess of saturated fatty acids and simple sugars in the diet is a known environmental risk factor of Alzheimer's disease (AD) but the holistic view of the interacting processes through which such diet may contribute to AD pathogenesis is missing. We addressed this need through extensive analysis of published studies investigating the effects of western diet (WD) on AD development in humans and laboratory animals. We reviewed WD-induced systemic alterations comprising metabolic changes, induction of obesity and adipose tissue inflammation, gut microbiota dysbiosis and acceleration of systemic low-grade inflammation. Next we provide an overview of the evidence demonstrating that WD-associated systemic alterations drive impairment of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and development of neuroinflammation paralleled by accumulation of toxic amyloid. Later these changes are followed by dysfunction of synaptic transmission, neurodegeneration and finally memory and cognitive impairment. We conclude that WD can trigger AD by acceleration of inflammaging, and that BBB impairment induced by metabolic and systemic inflammation play the central role in this process. Moreover, the concurrence of neuroinflammation and Aβ dyshomeostasis, which by reciprocal interactions drive the vicious cycle of neurodegeneration, contradicts Aβ as the primary trigger of AD. Given that in 2019 the World Health Organization recommended focusing on modifiable risk factors in AD prevention, this overview of the sequential, complex pathomechanisms initiated by WD, which can lead from peripheral disturbances to neurodegeneration, can support future prevention strategies.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Blood-brain barrier impairment; Gut-brain axis; Metabolic syndrome; Neurodegeneration; Neuroinflammation; Obesity; Pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / etiology
  • Animals
  • Cognitive Dysfunction*
  • Diet, Western / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / etiology