Think You Can’t Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease? Think Again!
…Because you can!
At least 35% of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease are under YOUR control, including what you put in your mouth!
And since June is Brain and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month (i), I wanted to share 6 steps you can take to maintain a healthy brain, including reducing your risk of the most common cause (60-80%) of dementia: Alzheimer’s Disease. Long time readers of my blog may recognize parts of this from the summer of 2021--but the message bears repeating!
1. Quit Smoking
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Smoking damages the brain and increases the likelihood of having a stroke by 200-400%. Smoking also negatively impacts cognition, particularly in women. In a 2021 study (ii), the largest ever to study the association between smoking and cognitive function (involving approximately 70,000 people aged 18-85), researchers found that the effects of smoking impaired verbal learning and memory performance—and the impairment was more pronounced in women than in men.
2. Get Moving!
Overwhelming science shows that exercise increases brain blood flow, increases the volume of the hippocampus (iii) (the region of the brain primarily associated with memory) and stimulates growth of new brain cells. Regular exercise has shown promise in both the prevention and treatment of dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. A recent review stated: “physical inactivity is one of the most common preventable risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s Disease” (iv). And the benefits of exercise may be greater for women. In a recent review of 39 controlled human trials (v) that examined different types of exercise in older adults, greater benefits were observed in women, which by the way, make up 2/3 of Alzheimer’s Disease patients. A review of 16 studies involving more than 160,000 participants (vi) found regular exercise reduced Alzheimer’s Disease risk by 45%.
3. Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure
What is a healthy blood pressure (BP) level? 120/80 or LESS. Persistent high BP from age 40 yrs. onward is associated with increased risk of dementia in later life (vii) and women may be more vulnerable. A study involving over 500,000 individuals (viii) followed for almost 12 yrs., found that having high BP in middle age puts women at higher risk of dementia, even after accounting for other risk factors.
4. Maintain a Healthy Blood Sugar (Glucose)
For both women and men, “healthy” means a fasting blood glucose level between 70-99 mg/dL. High blood glucose can damage blood vessels and nerves in the brain, raising the risk for dementia. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that, even in people without diabetes, blood glucose levels above normal are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia (ix).
5. Consume alcohol in moderation
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid (x), recommends red wine in moderation, likely because red wine is 5 to 10 times higher in polyphenols (which have numerous health benefits, including acting as antioxidants) than white wine (xi). But just because a little wine is good doesn’t mean a lot is better. A 2017 review of 20 studies involving over 175,000 subjects (xii) found that a glass of wine was protective against dementia, but excessive drinking (3-4 glasses/day) elevated the risk.
6. Eat a Mediterranean Diet!
I began this blog by stating that at least 35% of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common cause of dementia, are factors under your control, including what you eat. The Mediterranean Diet is recognized by public health authorities around the world as one of the healthiest eating patterns. It has also been shown in numerous clinical studies to improve cognitive health (xiii). Why? One likely explanation is that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in extra virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, and whole grains, reduces inflammation (xiv). Inflammation is associated with worse cognitive function and a higher risk of dementia, especially in older women (xv).
Alzheimer’s disease is not inevitable. You can turn back your brain’s biological age by following a Mediterranean Diet. But it’s not always convenient to do so. About 40% of those surveyed by America’s Test Kitchen (xvi) said that the biggest hurdle to following a Mediterranean Diet was the time it takes to prepare, plan and shop for food. Olivino conveniently provides extracts of three key fruits of the Mediterranean Diet, Olives, Grapes, and Tomatoes, which contain components clinically documented to reduce inflammation and lead to improved brain health.