Asked by Charles, California
How can nutrition affect your health, as far as risk of Alzheimer's disease? I have a strong family history and want to do everything that I can to avoid getting Alzheimer's.
Diet and Fitness Expert
Dr. Melina Jampolis
Physician Nutrition Specialist
Since November is Alzheimer's disease awareness month, I thought this was a great time to answer this question.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of death in those aged 65 and older.
Age and family history/genetics are major risk factors, but emerging research is suggesting that lifestyle factors including diet and exercise can also plan an important role in prevention.
Eating a heart healthy diet like the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet is essential, as brain health and heart health are very closely related.
Here are a few other things you should consider.
Up your E. Vitamin E is a very potent anti-oxidant and appears to play a role in staving off Alzheimer's. Research shows that those with the highest amounts in their diet (from food, not supplements), have a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Top food sources include sunflower and safflower oil, nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts) and green vegetables including broccoli and spinach. Make sure to consume green vegetables with a little healthy fat to maximize the absorption of vitamin E.
Go for fish. Getting adequate amounts of poly-unsaturated omega 3 fatty acids found in fish is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is present in larger amounts in the brain, appears to be particularly important.
Low levels of DHA in the blood have been associated with worsening mental function. Try to eat at least two 4-ounce servings of fish per week. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, lake trout and sardines are highest in omega 3s. If you don't have access to fresh fish, canned is a good alternative, just look for low sodium options whenever possible.
If you don't eat fish, take a fish oil capsule daily or try out some of the new foods fortified with DHA including soy milk, yogurt and nutrition bars.
Move more. Moderate to heavy exercise can decrease your risk of Alzheimer's by up to 45%. Moderate exercise includes house and yard work, climbing stairs, and sports like bowling and golf. And start early -- exercising in your teens can protect you later in life.
Being fit has been show to decrease brain shrinkage, a common finding in dementia, and may help fight depression, which also commonly occurs in Alzheimer's disease patients. Aim for an hour per day, but every little bit adds up.
Spice things up. India has a much lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease, and many researchers believe it may be due in part to their extensive use of turmeric (a component of curry) in their cooking.
Turmeric contains a powerful phytonutrient called curcumin which may help protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease in several ways. Research is currently underway to determine the optimal intake (very little taken by mouth actually gets to the brain) but consuming curry regularly along with a little healthy fat may help and certainly can't hurt.
Make changes to your lifestyle today, and be consistent, to decrease your risk of Alzheimer's disease. All of the things that I mentioned work much better for prevention than for slowing of progression or treatment.
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