It shocks most people to learn that Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in America. But the truth is Alzheimer’s is always eventually fatal.
There are already 5 million Americans currently suffering with this devastating disease, and the numbers are on the rise. In fact, according to the experts that 5 million may morph in a staggering 15 million by 2050.
Because while death rates for heart disease, cancer and other potentially deadly diseases are falling, the death rate for Alzheimer’s is skyrocketing. Making solutions to fight this epidemic absolutely critical.
The nuts and bolts behind Alzheimer’s
We know that genetics play a big part in your risk for Alzheimer’s, but we don’t yet understand exactly how your genes influence your risk.
For example, we know that a gene called APOE-e4 increases your risk for the disease, but it doesn’t make Alzheimer’s a certainty. There are other genes that have a more direct link to the condition and are associated with rare, usually early-onset, versions of the disease.
Because we know a least some of the genes involved in raising your risk for Alzheimer’s you may want to have you genes sequenced to clarify your own risk—especially if you have close relatives who have had the disease.
Heart health can also play a significant part in your risk for Alzheimer’s. This may seem surprising at first, but there’s a good reason for the link.
You see your brain is a bit of a glutton, gobbling up lots of the oxygen and nutrients that are carried through your bloodstream. Heart problems can interfere with this delivery system causing a ripple effect that eventually essentially starves your brain of the food it needs to perform at a peak level.
Both high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol send your risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia skyrocketing.
Other major risk factors for Alzheimer’s include
- living a sedentary lifestyle,
- and obesity.
Statistically women appear to be at a slightly higher risk for the disease. But this may simply be because women, on average, live longer than men.
Beef up your brain with Alzheimer’s fighters
Eating a whole food, unprocessed diet is good for your brain and should help reduce your dementia risk.
Beef up your brain health by making these seven “brain foods” a part of your regular diet…
1. Heart healthy foods:
As mentioned earlier, if you have heart disease, you’re at an increased risk for cognitive decline. So when you protect your heart you end up protecting your brain right along with it. Some simple diet changes can support your heart… and brain… such as eating lean proteins, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables.
2. Greens and cruciferous vegetables:
Eat more brain-friendly broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and collards. Research has revealed that these foods can reduce cognitive decline. As a bonus, they’re also good for the immune system, detoxification and hormone balance.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids:
Omega-3s have also been shown to support brain health. One study found that people who are deficient in omega-3s tend to have smaller brains. That is also a risk factor for cognitive decline.
Fatty fish, like salmon, are a great source of these fats, as are nuts and flax seed. Some animal studies have shown that a form of omega-3 known as DHA reduces beta amyloid plaques, a defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
Animal studies have shown that rats fed a standard Western diet of processed foods have more trouble with learning and memory. This makes sense since bad-fat-laden diets are also harmful for cardiovascular health and glucose metabolism.
Head off dementia with herbs and nutrients
We all know what stress feels like. It’s that feeling of being overwhelmed that begins to wear away at our mental and physical health. But there’s another kind of stress, known as oxidative stress, that’s just as damaging. You can’t feel it directly in the way you do mental stress, but it has devastating effects, especially on your brain.
Oxidative stress is caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals can do major damage to your cells and tissues damaging DNA and fueling chronic inflammation. A growing stack of studies point to excess oxidative stress contributing to dementia, Alzheimer’s and general cognitive decline.
Antioxidants fight oxidative stress and as a result they may be able to reduce your dementia and Alzheimer’s risk.
Resveratrol is a compound that’s found in particularly high concentrations in red wine. This compound has shown promise as a potent antioxidant.
Research has revealed that people who drink moderate amounts of red wine are at lower risk for Alzheimer’s. Animal studies have also shown that resveratrol reduces amyloid plaque.
Honokiol is another powerful antioxidant. Derived from Magnolia bark honokiol, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years as a mild sedative.
New research has shown that, as an antioxidant, honokiol is a 1,000 times more powerful than vitamin E. It’s also been shown in preclinical studies to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective agent to help support brain health and much more.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has also been used in traditional Asian practices for many centuries. Again, modern research is confirming its benefits.In one powerful study from the Salk Institute, a drug created from curcumin reversed Alzheimer’s in mice. More research will need to be done to confirm this finding, but it’s a good confirmation of curcumin’s benefits for brain health.
7. Nattokinase and L-Carnitine:
In light of what we know about the relationship between cardiovascular disease and dementia, working to improve circulation may help. Found in a fermented soybean product called Natto, nattokinase promotes healthy blood flow. Another good supplement for circulation is the amino acid L-Carnitine, which is also an antioxidant.
More brain friendly moves to make
Studies show boosting circulation and exercise… two things that tend to go hand in hand… can help stave off cognitive decline, and poor circulation is a factor in dementia as well. In addition, exercise has been shown to enhance brain connectivity.
One study focused on women over 65 who walked 30 minutes each day. Other research has examined activity levels in people over 70. The results have been consistent. Those who exercise do better on mental tests and don’t suffer as much cognitive decline as do sedentary people who rarely get any physical activity.
A study by scientists at the University of British Columbia also found that a group of women with mild cognitive impairment were able to improve their memory with weight training and aerobics compared to a group of women who simply stretched. At the end of the study, the women doing weights and aerobics scored better on memory tests than the women who only stretched.
Don’t neglect the brain body link
We know that meditation and other mind-body exercises can help you control stress and maintain a positive mood. But it turns out these stress-reducers may also be able to help improve memory.
In one study participants, some of whom had mild cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s, performed a specific type of meditation. In follow-up tests researchers found that participants had increased blood flow to the brain and improved their scores on cognitive tests.
Another study revealed that meditation can actually change how your brain is structured. Scientists at UCLA found that meditation increases the folding in the cerebral cortex, which improves how your brain deals with information. This allows for better memory retrieval, decision making and focus.
Keep connected to keep your brain connections
Social activity has been shown to improve brain function. People who volunteer, have large social or family networks, or have other forms of engagement have a longer life span, better health and less depression.
We don’t yet have a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, continuing research has uncovered basic, everyday ways to address cognitive decline. A healthy diet, regular movement, targeted nutrients, relaxation and social connections can all help to keep your mind sharp and Alzheimer’s at bay.