Top 10 Ways To Naturally Prevent Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for up to 60-80% of all diagnosed cases; over 5 million Americans were suffering from Alzheimer’s in 2014 including 1 in every 9 people over the age of 65.
It is thought that the brain changes that cause Alzheimer’s start up to 20 years before symptoms actually appear. This gives a long period in which it should, theoretically, be possible to stop or slow the onslaught of the disease. If someone you know or love is already suffering from Alzheimer’s you should encourage them (through caregivers if necessary) to follow as many of these recommendations as are feasible, they might help to slow the progress of the disease.
We aren’t doctors or health care practitioners and you should always conduct your own research into medications to slow the progress and even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. This article shouldn’t relied upon as medical advice and you should definitely consult with your medical professional if you have questions about your health. We cannot promise that if you follow the 10 recommendations set out in this article that you will not get Alzheimer’s but these suggestions may reduce the likelihood that you will suffer from this particular form of dementia or at the very least may delay the onset of symptoms and may slow progression of the disease so that you are able to enjoy as many years as possible in good mental health.
Here are our top 10 recommended ways to try to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s.
10. Reduce your cholesterol
Doctors have, for years, encouraged us to limit the amount of bad cholesterol that we consume and to increase the amount of ‘good’ cholesterol. The reason for this advice is that bad (LDL) cholesterol forms plaque deposits in the arteries which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Good (HDL) cholesterol helps to prevent the plaque from forming by removing the LDL cholesterol to the liver where it can be cleaned from our systems.
It seems, however, that the advice to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol confer benefits, not just on the heart and circulatory system but also on the brain. One of the causes of Alzheimer’s is a buildup of a special type of plaque on the brain and it appears that high levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood might contribute to this as studies have shown that the lower the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood the lower the levels of brain plaque deposits.
The research is still in the early stages and there are a number of questions remaining as to the exact role that cholesterol (good and bad) plays in the development of Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, however, following a low cholesterol diet will do you no harm; at the very least you will be improving your cardiovascular health and you may very well be delaying or preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s. In order to maintain healthy cholesterol levels you should eat a diet low in saturated fat, high in fiber and with plenty of omega -3 fatty acids (typically sourced from fish).
9. Stop the cigarettes
We all know that cigarettes are bad for us. 60 years ago smoking was seen as a socially acceptable vice, no different to enjoying a glass of wine. These days lighting up close to people or anywhere under cover will see you branded as a social pariah in most countries and the packets you buy will be covered with health warnings. Lung cancer, oral cancer, heart disease, miscarriage the list of health problems that can be caused or exacerbated by cigarettes is both lengthy and depressing.
For many years people were encouraged to think that smoking might protect against Alzheimer’s disease but new research has shown that such belief is a cruel misunderstanding. The research is complicated, studies not affiliated with the tobacco industry show that smoking can nearly double your risk of developing Alzheimer’s while studies connected to the tobacco industry show that it has no impact at all. In recent years, however, the connection between smoking and Alzheimer’s appears to have become more established. Furthermore, it appears that the protective benefits that smoking seems to provide against Alzheimer’s comes not from the cigarette itself but from the nicotine it contains.
There is no getting away from the fact that smoking is bad for you so the potential benefits of nicotine (which you can get from patches in any event) do not outweigh the dangers of cigarettes. Put the cancer sticks in the trash, wean yourself off them and enjoy all the health benefits that decision will bring your body and your mind.
8. Enjoy a cup of coffee
Finally some good news! We are so used to being told that something we love is bad for us that it comes as a relief to hear that a ‘sin’ might actually help to save us. Most of us love our morning coffee, indeed a significant number of us are not worth talking to until we have had at least one but we are also used to being told about the negative side effects that come with coffee.
It seems, however, that a little bit of what we fancy does us good as scientific research studies have shown that drinking three cups of coffee a day could help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Studies concentrated on a cohort of people who already had mild cognitive problems which are often a precursor to Alzheimer’s. The people with higher caffeine levels in their blood typically developed the disease 2-4 years later than those who drank less coffee.
Nobody knows quite why coffee appears to prevent Alzheimer’s but it is speculated that it helps the body to metabolize a protein that can contribute to the development of the disease. The caffeine in coffee can also help maintain mental acuity and concentration which is also a key preventative strategy for Alzheimer’s (see below). Strangely enough coffee also appears to help prevent the onset of other diseases such as Type II Diabetes. Because we don’t really know how coffee works (but we think it does) don’t ever be made to feel bad about drinking it – unless you have a health condition that is incompatible with coffee (your doctor will advise you if this is the case), enjoy your 3 cups a day!
7. Prevent head injuries wherever possible
It is tempting to think that nothing bad will ever happen to us, that we are indestructible and as such it can be tempting to take physical risks. Sadly that is not the case, if it really were you would not be reading this article would you?
We do not really know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. We do know that it has something to do with plaque deposits outside and an accumulation of excess proteins inside the neurons which lead to degradation in the neurons and their interconnectivity but we do not know why it occurs.
Some research has concentrated on whether there is a link between traumatic brain injury earlier in life and an increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. While we still do not know exactly what that link is it does appear that there is a link and that brain injury is a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s.
Given this potential link (and it appears that the more severe the injury the greater your risk of developing the disease) you should aim to protect your head from injury as much as possible – wear a helmet when cycling, horse riding or engaged in any other similar activity and avoid contact sports such as boxing.
6. An apple a day….
Long before nutritionists and dieticians were encouraging us to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day children in school were told ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’. It appears that there may be more truth in this statement than we ever thought possible.
Scientists have long postulated that the damage caused to the brain by free radicals (found in polluted urban areas and cigarette smoke (see above) amongst other sources) could play a part in leaving patients vulnerable to Alzheimer’s. As a result increasing antioxidants in the diet can help reduce the risk of developing the disease.
Apples are packed to the skin with beneficial and health giving compounds, not least a very powerful antioxidant called quercetin of which it contains more per serving size than just about any other fruit or vegetable. Apples are also cheap, tasty and readily available year round. Studies on the beneficial effects of apples on humans have yet to be carried out but studies on rats have been encouraging.
We can’t say with certainty that eating an apple (or better still, two) a day will prevent you from getting Alzheimer’s it does seem likely that it will reduce your risk and they certainly will not do you any harm. In any event apples are so good for you that it is a sensible move for a number of reasons. Have fun, try out all the different types of apples available in your supermarket or even think about planting you own tree!
5. Up your intake of Vitamin D
Otherwise known as the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ Vitamin D is vital to our general health and wellbeing. It helps to keep our bones strong (children who are Vitamin D deficient will develop Rickets, a disease typified by weak bones), maintain a healthy immune and nervous system and plays a key role in cardiovascular function. While vitamin D can be obtained through diet our bodies typically synthesize it when sunlight hits the skin.
Researchers have found that there are a large number of Vitamin D receptors in a healthy brain, it is clear, therefore, that the Vitamin plays an important role in healthy brain function. We also know that Alzheimer’s sufferers have fewer Vitamin D receptors in the memory center of the brain. Nobody yet understands how the vitamin and Alzheimer’s are related and whether the low levels of Vitamin D in sufferers’ brains resulted in the Alzheimer’s or whether the low levels were caused the disease. Studies on the effectiveness of supplements are currently underway but, in the meantime we would advise you to make sure that you keep your Vitamin D levels healthy.
Before we understood the dangers of skin cancer and the role of UV radiation very few people suffered from Vitamin D deficiency. These days, however, people might find that their use of sunscreen prevents them from synthesizing enough. It can be a difficult balancing act, fair skinned people do not need much sun exposure to get sufficient Vitamin D but they might burn in the process. If in doubt cover up and take Vitamin D supplements which are available from health food stores. People who work night shifts or live in very polluted urban areas run the risk of becoming deficient and should consider taking supplements.
4. Keep your brain active
Have you ever heard of brain training? A few years ago brain training apps and games for handheld devices were all the rage. They claimed that exercising your brain every day could help your overall health. While it is easy to dismiss the claims as bunkum spouted to sell games there does appear to be truth in the premise.
Our brains depend on connections between neurons; our early and formative years are spent building these connections. As we get older, unless we take the time to keep them active these connections degrade and alter. It appears that the more educated someone is the lower their risk of Alzheimer’s and, if they do go on to develop the disease it tends to be later in life than someone with a lower level of education. This is because the more educated a person the more likely they are to read, do crossword puzzles and to be mentally active at all stages of life.
Keeping the brain active enough to maintain (and even build new) connections and cells appears to have a strong protective effect so grab the newspaper and do the crossword or get your children/grandchildren to throw you math puzzles every day!
3. Stay as physically active as possible
While a link between the amount we use our brain and how healthy it is seems obvious very few non-medical people know that there is a link between the health of the brain and the level of physical activity someone does. Researchers at the University of Maryland were interested in a potential link and the findings were astonishing.
It appears that moderate physical exercise can help to preserve the health of the part of the brain that is responsible for memory and spatial awareness. In other words being physically active prevented the neurons from degrading and therefore the brain from shrinking. Whether it is because the brain is engaged during the activity (see the point above) or whether the exercise itself is beneficial we do not know but Alzheimer’s experts believe that being physically active can help to delay the onset of the disease and ensure that it progresses more slowly once it has started. Certainly studies have shown that the less active you are the greater your risk of developing the disease.
We are not saying that you should start weight lifting and training for a triathlon but making sure that you do some form of moderate exercise every day would be nothing but beneficial to your general health. Even just going for a walk should help; try and team up with a friend so that you get a chance to talk (and exercise your brain) or take the dog (or a neighbor’s dog) out. Getting out and about should also help you produce more Vitamin D (see above).
Meditation might seem like a new-age, kooky solution to what is a very real problem but clearing your mind and learning to mediate could bring you huge benefits when it comes to avoiding the onset of dementia.
The brains of people who meditate look different to the brains of people who do not. Scientists and researchers do not really know why that is or understand what it means but they have used that as a basis for exploring whether meditation could help prevent Alzheimer’s. Studies took people with some mild cognitive issues and taught them to meditate, how to do yoga and how to be mindful and were encouraged to follow these practices for 30 minutes a day at home and to participate in some structured meditation activities. The people in the group experienced less shrinkage of their hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory) than the control group.
It is thought that the practice of meditation helps to improve blood flow to the brain and to keep it active. Members of the trial certainly noticed an improvement in their ability to perform memory tasks. It is, however, notable that once the Alzheimer’s has become severe enough it will most likely prevent someone meditating. While the study on the power of meditation to delay onset of or protect against Alzheimer’s was very small and more work needs to be done it certainly appears promising. Meditating will do you no harm at all and as such is worth learning.
1. Join a class or start a new hobby
As you have seen from many of the more recent points on the list, the more active you keep your brain and body the more likely you are to be able to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and slow the progression of the disease if and when you do get it. Taking a class or starting a new hobby combines a lot of these benefits into one.
By getting out and learning a new hobby you are forcing your brain to form new connections and keeping it active. At the same time you are involving yourself in a situation that requires sustained social interaction. It appears that this combination of intellectual, social and physical stimulation is extremely potent and one of the most effective ways of keeping your brain healthy and active. It also appears that the higher the quality of the social interaction you enjoy the more likely it is to provide you with some protection against Alzheimer’s.
The advice from this is clear – don’t sit around at home and watch television but get out, get active, speak with people and challenge yourself to learn new things and take on difficult and challenging skills whenever you can.
Only 100 years ago the average life expectancy, even in what is now the developed world, was low enough that most people did not live long enough or unhealthily enough to worry about the diseases that now concern us. Cancers and heart disease happened, of course they did but they were not the common killers that they are today and dementia was seen as the inevitable corollary of old age.
Worrying and frightening as physical diseases may be, we have developed drugs which can help to keep some of them at bay, at least for a time. Long enough perhaps to put affairs in order and say goodbye to our loved ones and, of course, we all know the basic steps of healthy living that we should follow (low weight, lean food, lots of exercise, no cigarettes and cut down on alcohol) to increase our chances of living healthily for as long as possible.
If, however, cancer and heart disease were problems that emerged from the greater longevity that development afforded us in the middle of the last century then diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are their equivalent for the late 20th and early 21st Century. Sadly, in some ways, they are even more frightening. They may not leave us racked with pain with our bodies being eaten from the inside, at least initially, but they do take from us the very essence of our personality, leaving a bodily shell that is divorced from all the memories that make us us. The real horror of diseases such as Alzheimer’s is that they leave us stuck in a living tomb.
Stay as healthy as possible, keep active, keep interested and you are giving yourself the best possible protection against the disease according to current knowledge.