Lifestyle Factors to Keep in Mind for Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

Losing Brain FunctionBy Jennifer Morganti, ND, Needs Director of Education

 

As Alzheimer’s disease (AD) rates continue to rise, many of us are wondering what our own risk is of  becoming a statistic. Current data says your chances are one in nine if you are over 65 years old, and if you’re over 85, it’s one in three. With such high risks, wouldn’t it be great to better understand what we can do to prevent it? There isn’t a good treatment to reverse AD and we still are not clear what causes it. Genetics and lifestyle factors seem to play in to the scenario, but the picture is fuzzy at best.

A recent study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, which may help provide clues as to which lifestyle risk factors can be modified to help decrease the chances of developing this devastating disease.  This study was a meta-analysis of other studies that contained data about AD risks. The diligent researchers initially browsed through almost 17,000 relevant studies, then narrowed it down to 323 which were appropriate to include in the review. There were over 5,000 patients included in the 323 studies.

The review of these 5,000 patients brought to light some interesting findings. They found a strong protective effect from five dietary factors: coffee intake, light to moderate drinking (alcohol), vitamin E, vitamin C, and folic acid. They found a significantly increased risk of developing AD when homocysteine levels were high or if a person was depressed. Risk also increased in the presence of other health conditions such as obesity (in middle age), atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and having type-2 diabetes. Interestingly, the study found a seemingly contradictory risk factor; a “low” BMI (being underweight) also is a hazard. Smoking or having a lower education level increases a person’s risk. Frailty (lacking strength and not exercising) puts a person at risk as well.

Some of the results were surprising and all in all, some were familiar. Although nothing is conclusive from this one review, the information is useful.  I think it does help point us in the right direction to make smart lifestyle choices for AD prevention, and those choices are also generally wise recommendations for overall health and wellness. 

Reference:
Xu W, Tan L, Wang H, et al: Meta-analysis of modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 2015;August 21, 2015.

The MIND Diet for Better Health

By Laurel Sterling, RD

There is a growing body of evidence that shows that what you eat can affect your brain. A recent study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center demonstrates that a diet plan they developed may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53%! This diet has been coined the MIND diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It is a combination of the well known Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Apparently, the MIND diet proved to be more effective than either diet alone. They found that those who followed either the DASH or the Mediterranean diet “moderately” had almost no drop in their Alzheimer’s risk.

The MIND diet breaks its recommendations down into 10 “brain healthy food groups” a person should eat and five “unhealthy food groups” to avoid.

Food Groups to Include:

  • Green leafy vegetables (like spinach and salad greens) at least 6 servings/week
  • Other vegetables – At least 1/day
  • Nuts – 5 servings/week
  • Berries – 2 or more servings/week
  • Beans – At least 3 servings/week
  • Whole grains – 3 or more servings/day
  • Fish – Once/week
  • Poultry (like chicken or turkey) – 2 times/week
  • Olive oil – Use it as your main cooking oil
  • Wine – 1 glass/day

Food Groups to Avoid:

  • Red meat – Less than 4 servings/week
  • Butter and margarine – Less than 1 tablespoon/day
  • Cheese – Less than 1 serving/week
  • Pastries and sweets – Less than 5 servings/week
  • Fried or fast food – Less than 1 serving/week

They discovered that the MIND diet helped slow the rate of cognitive decline and protect against Alzheimer’s regardless of genetics and other risk factors like smoking and exercise. So let’s MIND the way we eat!

This is Your Brain on Fish

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Hundreds of studies have found that Omega-3 fish oil is excellent for brain health. A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that regular fish consumption actually creates more voluminous brains (more gray matter), protecting individuals from Alzheimer’s disease. The subjects who consumed fish just once a week had hippocampuses that were 14% larger than those who did not consume fish once a week. If you dislike fish, consider an Omega-3 fish oil supplement, to help prevent cognitive decline.

Raji et al., Am J Prev Med. 2014 Jul 29 published online.