There are few diseases more feared that Alzheimer’s, no doubt because any mental disorder is frightening. Moreover this affliction has become so common that many people find their lives touched by it.
There are currently about 4.5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s and the number is expected to rise to 16 million by the year 2050. Women seem to be most at risk although the precise reason for the development of Alzheimer’s is still somewhat of a mystery. We do know that some cases are linked to genetic susceptibility while others may be due to damage from tiny strokes and resulting decreased blood flow to the brain. It’s also clear that cardiovascular risk factors including obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are associated with the cognitive decline we recognize as Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. Dementia affects about 10% of the adult population over age 65 and about 45% of those over age 85. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and it’s generally defined as an irreversible progressive decline in memory, language skills, orientation in time and space and ability to perform routine tasks.
Fortunately, there are steps we can all take to reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Like most diseases, Alzheimer’s begins decades before the onset of clinical symptoms – the brain changes very slowly – so you do have time to take steps now. Indeed one study of 13,000 women from the Nurses Health Study found that women who ate the most SuperFood vegetables like spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in their 50’s and 60’s showed less cognitive decline in their 70’s when compared to women who ate less of these vegetables. In general, a SuperFood HealthStyle diet, adequate exercise and stress control is the framework of the best defense against this disease.
Here are some particular guidelines for avoiding Alzheimer’s:
- Eat fish, particularly fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon, regularly. I recommend 3 ounces four times a week. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, is one of the fats found in fish and is a primary component of brain cell membranes. It’s known to directly promote brain health, so adequate fish intake — the best food source — is the cornerstone of any Alzheimer’s avoidance program.
- Keep your blood pressure low — ideally below 120/80 or lower. We know that hypertension is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s.
- Keep your weight at optimum levels. Obesity is another risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Feed your brain with complex carbs — whole grains, fruits and vegetables — to provide a steady, healthy source of fuel..
- Check your homocysteine levels. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the presence of elevated homocysteine could nearly double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. If your levels are high be sure to take a multivitamin with the RDA for all B vitamins, especially folate, B6 and B12.
- Have a complete blood count (CBC) to be sure you’re not anemic as low iron stores are implicated in neurological deficits. Do not, however, take an iron supplement without consulting with your health care provider.
- Aim for a total cholesterol below 200 mg/d. and an LDL of 70 mg. High cholesterol promotes atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries and may also contribute to the brain plaques that are typical of Alzheimer’sAim for a fasting glucose of less than 100 during your annual physical
- Be wise about your alcohol intake. A study of older adults in the Cardiovascular Health Study found that those who drank one to six alcoholic drinks per week were least likely to have dementia. Of course you shouldn’t start drinking to stave off Alzheimer’s disease but if you already do, keep within the range of one to six drinks per week. For abstainers, I suggest 4 – 8 ounces of purple grape juice daily.
- Exercise! Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and reduces the production of stress hormones such as cortisol which can have an adverse affect on the brain. Follow the HealthStyle ERA suggestions (page 00) and try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily.
- Socialize. Relationships with others seem to play a role in brain health. Seek out regular social interaction, especially as you age and might have less routine contact with others in work situations.
- Lower your risk for diabetes as this disease is a risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s. (see page 00)
- Eat blueberries – one cup fresh or frozen- or its sidekicks daily. Blueberries are “brain berries”: they seem to have powerful effects on preservation of cognitive ability.
- Avoid trans fats.
- Concentrate on a high dietary intake of vitamin C and E. Also consider taking a daily supplement of vitamins C and E. Vitamins C and E may help lower ones risk for Alzheimer’s’.
- As there may be a relationship between low intake of dietary beta carotene and cognitive decline, boost your intake of this important nutrient with the SuperFood pumpkin.
- Consider taking acetyl-L-Carnitine. This substance mimics the action of acetylcholine – a major neurotransmitter – in the brain. It may have efficacy in retarding the aging of cellular mitochondria, the energy factory in the cells and many feel that this is a key to increasing longevity. To date acetyl-L-Carnitine has been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s’ in at least two studies, though there hasn’t been a published report on the effectiveness of this substance to prevent Alzheimer’s
- Spice it up. Preliminary data suggest that curcumin may play a role in preventing and/or treating Alzheimer’s.
- Increase your niacin intake. A recent study of 6,158 men and women aged 65 and older reported an inverse association between Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline and dietary intakes of total niacin from food and supplements and also niacin from foods only