by David Bunnell
If there is any good news at all about dementia and Alzheimer’s it is there are several things you can do which will decrease your odds of getting the disease in the first place.
Having read a great deal of the literature on this topic and having discussed it with experts, I’ve come up with a 10-step program for preventing Alzheimer’s disease—one that I follow. Time will tell, but I believe if you incorporate most of this program into your lifestyle; you will most likely not get this disease (no promises, of course).
1. Exercise Religiously. Study after study has shown that people who regularly exercise are less likely to develop AD. One of the most impressive was a massive 5-year study of 4,600 men and women 65 and older which found that regular exercise reduced the possibility of getting the disease by more than 30%. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that found, among more than 18,000 older women studied, those who were most physically active had a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment. Other research involving the use of magnetic resonance imaging scans shows that the brains of older people who exercise produce patterns of brain activity normally seen in 20 year olds.
2. Control your Weight. A study of 10,276 middle aged people who were between 40 and 45 years old in 1994 found that the one’s who were obese at that time were a whopping 74% more likely to have dementia than those of healthy weights. (Obese was defined as having a body-mass index of 30 or above.) People who were simply overweight were 35% more likely to have developed dementia.
3. Get your Folic Acid. Sometime referred to as “folates” folic acids are B-vitamin nutrients found in foods such as bananas and oranges, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, liver, and many types of beans and peas. In addition to eating plenty of these items, you need to take a very inexpensive folic acid supplement so that your daily intake is 4,000 mcg’s or more.
Folic Acid protects against Alzheimer’s by reducing blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid. Homocysteine has already been linked to an increased risk for heart disease. One study concluded that people who consume a high level of folate reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 55%. These results are disputed by some, but there is no doubt folic acid reduces homocysteine and no doubt that people with healthier hearts have less Alzheimer’s.
4. Drink Green Tea. Green tea inhibits the activity of the enzyme (acetylcholinesterase) that breaks down neurotransmitters and also the enzyme (butyrylcholinesterase) which is found in the protein deposits on the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Older people who drink green tea daily have been shown to have less memory loss than people who don’t. Green tea also boosts the immune system and has been clinically shown to enhance brain waves associate with a relaxed, awake state—one that is conducive to improved memory.
To get the full benefits, the tea has to be green and you’ll need to drink a minimum of two cups a day. Six cups is ideal.
5. Exercise your brain. You know the old saying, use it or lose it—well, this applies to your “biggest sex organ,” i.e., your brain. Research has shown that older people who keep their brains active can increase its vitality and actually grown new dendrites (the branches on nerve cells).
Challenge yourself to reach new heights of mental activity—read more books, do the crossword puzzle, learn new vocabulary words or better yet, a new language, practice memorizing things like phone numbers or the Gettysburg Address. Be curious.
You can even learn how to “cross-train” your brain by practicing a form of mental exercises, called neurobics. Studies have shown that people who achieve higher levels of education are less likely to get Alzheimer’s than people with low levels of education. Well-educated people can still get the disease, but the symptoms usually appear much later.
6. Take Niacin. There are no magic bullets to prevent dementia, but the B3 vitamin Niacin might be the closest. For years, doctors have known that Niacin deficiency can lead to dementia, but only recently have we discovered the opposite is also true.
A 5 ½ year study by the Rush Institute of Healthy Aging found that people who consumed a high level of Niacin (45 mg) were 80% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people who consumed the least amount (less than 14 mg a day). Foods rich in niacin include: beans and lentils; nuts; whole-wheat bread and fortified cereals; coffee; meat and fish.
To insure that you are getting enough Niacin in your diet I strongly recommend you take a B-complex vitamin with Niacin or even a Niacin supplement. I take both. The B-complex that I take has 25 mg of Niacin and the Niacin supplement has 100 mg.
7. Eat fish (and/or take omega-3 oil supplements). They don’t call fish “brain food” for nothing. A diet rich in the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, which is found in salmon, halibut, and other cold-water fish, protects the brain from the damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown that DHA is getting oxidized in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and replenishing it can help arrest Alzheimer’s development.
It logically follows that a diet rich in omega-3 oil is one way to help prevent the disease in the first place. Because we have to worry about the mercury in fish and because it would be hard to enough fish on as daily basis, a supplement is pretty much a necessity.
8. Get out in the world. Several studies have reported leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social activity are the most likely to prevent AD. In one study of 800 men and women aged 75 and older, those who were more physically active, more mentally active or more socially engaged had a lower risk for developing dementia. And those who combined these activities did even better. Sports, cultural activities, emotional support and close personal relationships together are protective against dementia.
9. Take aspirin. A recent study in mice proved that a daily dose of NSAIDS prevents the formation of a key protein (amyloid-beta 42 protein) required to develop Alzheimer’s disease. NSAID which stands for “Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs includes common painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen.
This needs more research to be conclusive but meanwhile, a small daily dose of aspirin (81mg) helps prevent heart attacks and strokes so why not take it. I do.
10. Have a healthy heart. You may have noticed that many of the above steps for preventing Alzheimer’s also promote heart health. The connection between the brain and the heart is very real. High cholesterol and high blood pressure increase the risk of AD twofold. When you add obesity to these two factors, the risk increases six times.
A Harvard Medical School study of 13,000 women ages 70-81 (the Nurses Study) found that a heart-healthy diet that included 8 servings a week of dark leafy vegetables (such as romaine lettuce and spinach) and cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage) slows cognitive decline. Women on such a diet were 1.7 years younger in terms of cognitive aging compared to women who only ate three servings a week.
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