Although there are no current cures there are steps you can take to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. For the Baby Boomer population the loss of cognitive thinking is their number one health fear. Many have seen first hand the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe one or both of your parents have suffered from this disease.
You have experienced the emotional and financial costs of being a caregiver to a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia. You have read articles about this disease. One of the overriding facts that you have taken away is that there are no known cures for this disease. Once you have Alzheimer’s you will continue to experience the slow, and for some the rapid, dissent into a world of lost memories, names, and faces that makes life extremely challenging for all.
Very few places talk about prevention. None mention any steps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. So the question is:
Can you prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
To answer this question, I’m going to give you current information about a wide range of options that have promising results as it relates to brain health and function. I think you will come to the same conclusion that I’ve come to. There is hope in prevention. Prevention is taking the steps today to prevent a problem from occurring in the future.
Because of the amount of information I have, I have broken this topic into two parts. Part one looks at ten different options for improving brain health to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Part two will review several other options. I’ll then take all this information and put it into a working plan of action. This plan of action will have the potential to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease as well as improve your overall health and slow the aging process!
Vitamin B9 which is also called folate and folic acid is essential for the creation of new cells in the body. This vitamin is so important that taking folic acid before conception and throughout pregnancy helps to ensure that the developing child will not experience certain brain and spinal cord defects. Recent research is showing that a lack of folate may triple the risk of developing dementia in elderly people.
Researchers in South Korea recently published their work in the British Medical Association’s Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. They measured the naturally occurring folate levels in 518 elderly people. At the start of the study none of the test subjects showed any signs of dementia. After 2.4 years, 45 of the subjects had developed dementia with 34 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Even after taking into account age, disability, alcohol consumption, and weight change, the researchers concluded “the onset of dementia was significantly associated with an exaggerated decline in folate.”
In a separate study published in The Lancet, people over 50 who took a daily dose of 800 micrograms of folic acid showed an improvement in short-term memory, mental agility and verbal fluency. The current US recommended daily dose is 400 micrograms of folic acid. Most people do not obtain the current US recommendation of folic acid from their diet. One of the first steps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease as well as improve overall health is to make sure your taking in 400 micrograms of folic acid.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In the world of fat there are good and bad fats. Omega-3 fatty acids belong in the good fat category. Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fatty fish like salmon as well as in certain nuts, seeds, and fortified foods. A recent study conducted by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago followed more than 3000 men and women for six years. The researchers wanted to see how diet affected memory. Their study showed that people who ate fish at least once a week had a 10 percent slower decline in memory when compared to those who didn’t eat fish.
French researchers examined the link between diet and dementia. Their findings are in the journal Neurology. They tracked 8085 men and women over the age of 65 for a period of four years. During that time 183 participants developed Alzheimer’s disease and 98 developed some other form of dementia. This represented 3.5 percent of the population study. It was clearly shown that those who ate a diet heavy in fish, omega-3 fatty acids, fruits and vegetables had a significantly lower risk for developing dementia.
According to the famous and long-standing Framingham Heart Study, people who consumed the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids had a 40 to 50 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia disease. A study out of Sweden showed that the use of fish oil supplements with omega-3 fatty acids slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s in people with a mild form of this disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in wild, fresh and canned salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, rainbow trout, Pacific oysters, eggs fortified with omega-3, flaxseeds, walnuts, white walnuts, seaweed, walnut oil, canola oil, and soybeans. Omega-3 fatty acids seem to have a positive impact on cognitive memory to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Beta carotene is water soluble and the precursor to vitamin A. It is considered to be a powerful antioxidant to help prevent free radical damage. According to the lead researcher Francine Grodstein of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston:
“Beta carotene is an antioxidant vitamin. So the reason we thought it might help your brain is because there is now a lot of evidence that oxidative damage harms your brain. And that may be one of the initiating factors which leads to memory problems.”
The findings of this 18 year old study were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. There were two groups of men. The long-term group, consisting of 4052 men, was randomly assigned to take either 50 milligrams of beta carotene or a placebo every other day for an average of 18 years. The short-term group of 1904 men was randomly assigned to take either the same amount of beta carotene or a placebo every other day for an average of 1 year.
The men in the long-term group who received the beta carotene recorded significantly higher scores on several cognitive and verbal memory tests when compared to those on the placebo. For those in the short-term group there was no significant difference in cognitive tests between those who took the placebo and those who received beta carotene. This study shows the importance of long term dietary actions to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive memory.
One note of caution regarding beta carotene and smokers! There is a recent study that seems to indicate that the use of beta carotene may increase the risks of lung cancer in people who smoke.
Chinese Club Moss or Huperzine A
Chinese club moss has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for cognitive disorders. It is now the focus of a national clinical trial in the form of Huperzine A which is a purified alkaloid extract from the Chinese moss, Huperzia serrata. Nerve transmission in the brain uses a specific neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. When a nerve is stimulated it releases acetylcholine in the space or synapse between it and the next nerve. This process transfers the nerve impulse from one nerve cell to the next.
After the nerve impulse has been transmitted, the enzyme acetylcholine esterase breaks down the acetylcholine so that the nervous signal is ended. In Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia, it is believed that the acetylcholine is destroyed too quickly resulting in a nerve impulse that is either too weak to be received or incompletely transmitted. Huperzine A seems to inhibit the action of the enzyme acetylcholine esterase. This slows down the destruction of acetylcholine so that the strength and duration of the nerve impulse is improved.
The scientific and clinical studies of Huperzine A demonstrated a longer duration of action, a higher therapeutic index, and minimal side effects when compared to pharmaceutical drugs such as tacrine, physostigmine and donepezil. In a recent clinical study of 103 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, 50 received 200 mcg of Huperzine A and 53 received a placebo for 8 weeks. Of those who received Huperzine A, 58 percent of the patients showed significant improvements in their memory, cognitive and behavioral functions, and had no adverse side effects.
Huperzine A is not recommended for children and women who are pregnant or nursing. Although raw preparations of the Chinese moss are available, it would be better to utilize purified and standardized extracts. Huperzine occurs in two forms “A” and “B” as well as (-) and (+). The most biologically active form is (-)HuperzineA. The typical dosage is 50 mcg taken twice per day. Some clinic studies for those already with Alzheimer’s disease have been as high as 200 mcg per day.
Iron helps hemoglobin carry oxygen properly to the working cells to provide energy through aerobic respiration. Iron also helps the neurotransmitters that are essential for proper memory function. This means that low iron levels can have a significant impact in two aspects of brain function. Since the brain uses a large amount of oxygen for energy production, a lack of iron will impact the amount of oxygen the red blood cells can delivery. Combine this with poor neurotransmission and you have the potential for some significant cognitive impairment due to low iron levels.
A normal blood test will tell you if you are anemic, but they will not tell you if your iron levels are low. Ask your doctor for a blood test that will check your ferritin level because this test will reveal even a moderate iron deficiency. According to Laura Murray-Kolb, PhD at Johns Hopkins University, “A poor diet or heavy menstrual periods, such as those during perimenopause, can cause your iron levels to drop enough to affect your recall abilities, even if you don’t have anemia.”
Side Note About Iron – My wife suffered with Restless Leg Syndrome and her doctor put her on REQUIP. This medication did nothing for the restless leg problem and made her lethargic. When she was diagnosed for anemia and started to take iron pills, not only did her anemia go away but so did her Restless Leg Syndrome. If you suffer with Restless Leg Syndrome, then get a blood test to check your ferritin level. If your iron is low, then it may be as simple as taking iron pills to solve this problem. Typically, 18 mg of iron (8 mg for post-menopausal women) are recommended on a daily basis.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Two to three apples a day could keep your neurologist away. According to Tom Shea, PhD and director of the University of Massachusetts Lowell Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegeneration Research said, “Apples have just the right dose of antioxidants to raise levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that’s essential to memory and trends to decline with age.”
Dr. Shea coauthored a study with Dr. Amy Chan that was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Their subjects were mice that suffered from the equivalent of early Alzheimer’s disease. When given a daily dose of apple juice, the mice got a memory boost. After 30 days, those mice that received the apple juice did a far superior job on the maze test then those mice that didn’t. Clinical trials are now underway to determine if humans will see similar benefits to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Shea’s recommendation is to consume two or three apples per day or two 8-ounce glasses of apple juice per day.
There are several studies that seem to indicate that a Mediterranean diet will help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Now there is a study that seems to indicate that consuming a Mediterranean diet will actually help Alzheimer’s patients live longer. Before we look at this study, it is important to understand what a Mediterranean diet is.
According to the American Heart Association, the Mediterranean diet consists of a high intake of fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. More than half of the fat calories come from monounsaturated fats such as olive oil. Dairy, fish, poultry, and other sources of saturated fats are eaten at low to moderate levels.
According to Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, the lead author and assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, “This time we found that Alzheimer’s patients who were following the Mediterranean diet had longer survival as compared to those who were following the diet less.” There were 192 patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s and all were 65 or older. Most of the subjects were non-white and were allowed to eat their normal diets without guidance from the researchers. However, their dietary selections were monitor over a four year period.
The results were that those Alzheimer’s patients who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet lived an average of four years longer than those whose diet most closely resembled a Western diet. Even those Alzheimer’s patients whose diet had a moderate degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet lived 1.3 years longer than those with a Western diet. This study was published in Neurology and showed that those who adhered closest to a Mediterranean diet were at a 73 percent lower risk of death and lived nearly four years longer.
In reaction to the positive results of the Mediterranean diet to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and increasing the longevity of those with Alzheimer’s disease, Greg M. Cole, an associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine had the following to say:
“It could be that the Mediterranean diet is slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s. But there could also be other explanations. For example, a lot of people who have Alzheimer’s also have cardiovascular disease. The risk factors for both illnesses show a lot of overlap. And it is a pretty well established benefit that the Mediterranean diet protects against heart disease. So, it could be that the Mediterranean diet is actually slowing down the accompanying spectrum of vascular problems that lead to stroke and heart attack and other problems associated with a cardiovascular disease that lead to mortality.”
In gathering the information for this article, with every positive study showing the importance of diet, nutrition and lifestyle in helping to slow down and/or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, there are also those who are reluctant to embrace these studies. I don’t want to pick on Dr. Cole but his reaction is similar to many doctors who practice reactive care rather than preventative care. If the Mediterranean diet has been shown to help prevent “vascular problems that lead to stroke and heart attack” wouldn’t it make sense to encourage people to follow this type of diet to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease since it has a cardiovascular component?
According to Qi Dai, the author of a ten year research study conducted by Vanderbilt University in Nashville, “Fruit and vegetable juices may play an important role in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.” This study was published in the American Journal of Medicine and clearly showed that drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juices reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 76 percent. This 10-year study utilized 1800 Seattle seniors. Those seniors that drank fresh fruit or vegetable juice three or more times per week were 76 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who only drank the juice once a week.
The source of protection seems to be polyphenols which are very powerful antioxidants. Polyphenols are found in the skins of fruits and vegetables. Juicing of whole fruit and vegetables protects these powerful antioxidants and allows them to be delivered into your bloodstream. Please don’t confuse juicing with commercial sugar-laden juices which are typically low in polyphenols and high in sugar content. They will not offer you the same level of protection to prevent Alzheimer’s disease as freshly juiced whole fruits or vegetables.
If you don’t have a juicing machine, then invest in a good juicer. When picking fresh fruits and vegetables to juice choose those that are highly colorful because the darker the color, the higher the concentration of polyphenols.
There has been a big push by the nutritionists over the last several years to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Recent studies have shown that vegetables, more than fruits, may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. In a recent study of people 65 years and older, those who averaged 2.8 servings of vegetables per day had a 40 percent lower rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease over those who ate less than 1 daily serving of vegetables. This study was done over a 6 year period. In this study fruit had no impact on the development of Alzheimer’s.
Another powerful antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables is flavonoids. According to French scientists who tracked the eating habits of 1640 adults over a 10 year period, those who ate the most flavonoids maintain the sharpest minds. The subjects who maintained a fruit heavy diet did the best on standard tests measuring language skills, logic, and memory.
As you have read, there are many promising options for improving brain health and function and the potential to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. In part two we will continue to look at additional options and then bring all this information together into a working plan of action. A big component to this plan of action is to understand The 1% Solution. If you have not read this article then I invite you to invest the time in understanding this powerful strategy for improving your health and slowing down the aging process.
Until next time, may we both age youthfully!
P.S. As a convenience, I’ve also included links to the following articles on Alzheimer’s disease:
The information contained in this website and posted articles are for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam. The information contained in this website and posted articles has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.