The majority of physicians today will tell patients there is very little they can do to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
That could not be farther from the truth!
In fact, I would go so far as to call it negligence to tell any patient that. We only know a tiny of sliver of information about Alzheimer’s and its causes, mechanisms, and responses to treatments and therapy. Researchers are constantly adding to the scientific literature available on it, so clearly the situation is far from hopeless.
There is one thing I can say for sure: There are often multiple components to chronic diseases like AD, and so fighting them requires quite a few weapons in your arsenal.
Fortunately, you can enter the battle with several non-toxic nutritional and lifestyle approaches—and they’re ones that you might not hear from your doctor.
I’ll share four of the BIG ones with you here, but don’t wait until you’ve been diagnosed with AD to do something about it—because, as with many chronic illnesses, prevention is the most effective tool!
And it doesn’t matter how young—or old—you are. The time to start is now.
There have been some observational studies that have shown that lower levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is associated with an increased risk of AD and other types of dementia.
This makes sense, since DHA is the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid in the brain and plays a significant role in both brain structure and cell-to-cell signaling. When you’ve got AD, amyloid plaque forms in your brain and damages that cell-to-cell communication. It also causes an inflammatory response that damages brain cells.
As a result, those with AD have fewer nerve cells and the connections between these cells than those with a healthy brain. Areas of the brain such as the cortex and hippocampus shrink, which damages the areas involved in thinking, planning, and memory.
But what we in the holistic medical community were REALLY waiting for was some research to back up the use of DHA supplementation to REDUCE the risk of AD and dementia. And it looks like we’ve just gotten it in the form of a recent study published in the mainstream medical journal JAMA Neurology.
In the study, researchers tested blood levels of older adults (with an average age of 77) and used a combination of brain imaging (PET scans) and cognitive testing to determine their brain health and function.
Those who had higher levels of DHA were found to have less amyloid plaque formation, greater brain volume (in certain sections of the brain), and better memory.1
Now, that’s a powerful correlation— and reason enough to start getting more DHA to protect those neural pathways from breaking down.
Certainly, eating high omega-3, DHA-rich fish is a good idea. Good seafood sources of DHA (and the other active omega 3, known as EPA) include herring, salmon, sardines, and trout.
Tuna is also a good source, but because of its mercury content, I don’t recommend you consume it regularly.
If you don’t like the taste of fish… or you don’t have access to fresh, wild caught varieties… fish oil and algae sources of DHA are available as well. I usually recommend a daily supplemental intake of 400 to 500 mg of DHA.
But Alzheimer’s prevention (and the slowing of its progression) doesn’t stop with the omega-3s.
In the July 2013 edition of Health Revelations, I wrote about the “pennies-a-day” nutritional approach to preventing AD with the B vitamins folate, B12, and B6. My recommendations were based on a two-year trial at Oxford University that involved 156 people who were 70 years and older showing signs of cognitive impairment, a precursor to AD).
The study subjects also showed elevated levels of the protein metabolite known as homocysteine. There’s a common genetic mutation that affects the MTHFR gene and can predispose you to elevated homocysteine levels—and brain inflammation. Needless to say, high homocysteine is not a good thing.
In the study, patients were given vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. Brain MRI scans were done to check for shrinkage, and blood levels of homocysteine were measured at the beginning of the trial and end of the trial.
The study found these B vitamins not only reduced brain shrinkage in areas of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s by up to 90 percent, but they also reduced homocysteine levels!2
Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with AD. A 2015 study published in JAMA found that people in their 70’s with low levels of D were three times more likely to develop AD over the course of five years.3
You can get a simple blood test to measure your levels, and you can supplement if they’re low or suboptimal. Supplement enough vitamin D to attain a blood level above 50 nmol/L.
We also know that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of AD and slows cognitive decline, but we don’t really know why. The benefits could be related to the omega-3s found in fish… omega-9s found in all that olive oil… the low glycemic rating due to the high fiber… or the high antioxidants found in the plant foods.
What we do know is when researchers reviewed a total of 18 studies with strict criteria, they found that overall those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet had less cognitive decline and improved cognitive function, and they were less likely to develop AD, compared to those with a low adherence to the diet.4
While incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your AD prevention strategy, make sure to add turmeric to your meals regularly. This popular spice contains the yellow pigment curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory effects—including for the brain.
It’s no wonder that there’s a low incidence of AD in India, where the people eat LOTS of turmeric in their curry dishes.5
More exciting, preliminary research demonstrates that curcumin has benefit in clearing amyloid betaplaque in AD and has protective effects against the formation of these dreaded brain-damaging proteins.6,7,8,9
Due to its unique brain effects, I’m not surprised that UCLA researchers are intensively studying highly absorbable curcumin for its potential benefit in those with AD and mild cognitive impairment.10
Regular exercise is also critical to reducing your risk of AD and age-related cognitive decline. This may be due to the improved blood flow to the brain, which improves nerve cell health.
It may also be that it reduces inflammation in the brain… lowers blood sugar (as diabetes is a risk factor for AD and dementia)… or reduces the “stress hormone” cortisol, which can damage brain cells if there’s too much of it for too long.
Whichever the case, be consistent with getting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day.
Your program should not only include physical exercise, but brain activities such as puzzles, word games, and discussions of current events.
Research shows that activities that stimulate thinking and memory help improve memory scores and delay worsening of symptoms in those with AD.11
Some studies also show that these activities can make you feel better and communicate and interact better.