What researchers do know about Alzheimer’s is that it is caused by brain cell death and subsequent shrinkage. Researchers believe this is caused by protein plaques and tangles in the brain. What causes them is still being studied. Genetics is one factor. But new studies are making the connection between cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. If your heart is not working at its best, then it may not be getting needed blood and oxygen to the brain. 1
New studies have offered some support for making lifestyle changes to prevent Alzheimer’s.
Researchers have seen a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s among those who follow a Mediterranean diet, had light to moderate alcohol consumption and who engaged in physical and cognitive exercises.2
Foods, Supplements and Activities to Prevent Alzheimer’s
Healthy Fats: The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat.3 A diet that is too low in fat or one that has a lot of saturated fats will not support a healthy brain. A healthy brain needs quality fats, such as those that come from foods that are rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids, among the most crucial molecules that determine your brain’s integrity and ability to perform. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required for maintenance of optimal health but they cannot synthesized by the body and must be obtained from dietary sources. Good sources for Omega 3 Fatty Acids include:
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Chia Seeds
Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant helps the body in many ways, and researchers now know it is also important for the central nervous system. Ascorbic acid, the reduced form of Vitamin C, is concentrated in the brain. A process called oxidative stress is linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s Disease and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), among others. The brain is dependent on the protection of antioxidants such as Vitamin C to prevent and fight off oxidative stress. Since the body does not produce its own Vitamin C, we need to get it from our diet or supplements. Good sources of Vitamin C include oranges, chili peppers, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, kale, broccoli, papaya, strawberries, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, pineapple, kiwi and mango. 5
Cayenne: increases blood circulation, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to get to the brain and other areas of the body with nutrients and oxygen. Cayenne pepper helps to regulate blood glucose, which is not only good for diabetics, but may also be an important element in cognitive function.6
Niacin: Dementia can be caused by severe niacin insufficiency, but it is unknown whether variation in intake of niacin in the usual diet is linked to a decline in the function of the brain. Niacin, B3, is a necessary water soluble vitamin that supports the health of the nervous system. B3 deficiency can cause pellagra. One of the symptoms of pellagra is dementia! Adequate niacin in the diet appears to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease. Some good sources of niacin include: liver, chicken, turkey, tuna, cottage cheese, peanuts, almonds, lentils, and sunflower seeds. 7
Control Other Health Problems: All the organ systems of your body work together, and if you have problems in one area of your body it is also going to affect your brain. While digestive problems are not necessarily a “cause” of Alzheimer’s disease, if you have trouble absorbing nutrients from your food, your body systems, including your brain will suffer. If you have lung problems, it will hinder your oxygen levels and ability to exercise, both of which could contribute to problems in your brain. Connections are being made between Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes and insulin resistance, another reason to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
Physical and Cognitive Exercises: Exercise increases blood flow and blood oxygen levels to the entire body, including the brain. Healthy oxygen levels and circulation in the brain are beneficial to the brain. Exercising your brain is also important. Practice activities and games that rely on memory, rather than passively watching television. Research shows this helps keep the memory strong. 8
2. CNN. Unmasking Alzheimer’s Risk in Young Adults. http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/06/health/alzheimers-risk-young-adults/index.html. Accessed on November 10, 2017.
3. Chang CY, Ke DS, Chen JY. Essential Fatty Acids and the Human Brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20329590. Accessed November 10, 2017.
4. Oregon State University. Linus Pauling Institute. Micronutrient Information Center. Essential Fatty Acids. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/essential-fatty-acids. Accessed on November 10, 2017.
5. Guido Haenen, Academic Editor. Old Things New View: Ascorbic Acid Protects the Brain in Neurodegenerative Disorders. Int J Mol Sci. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4691042/. Accessed November 10, 2017.
6. Yang HJ, Kwon DY, Kim MJ, Kang S, Moon NR, Daily JW, Park S. Red peppers with moderate and severe pungency prevent the memory deficit and hepatic insulin resistance in diabetic rats with Alzheimer’s disease. Nutr Metab (Lond). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25755673. Accessed November 10, 2017.
7. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer’s disease and of cognitive decline. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15258207. Accessed on November 10, 2017.
8. Centers for Disease Control. Physical Activity. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/APHN-At-a-Glance.pdf. Accessed on November 10, 2017.