Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), which accounts for 60-80 percent of dementia cases, now affects 5.4 million Americans, of which 5.2 million are age 65 and older.
- One out of eight aged 65 and older has AD.
- One out of two over age 85 has AD.
- It is estimated that nearly 500,000 people under the age of 65 have early-onset AD or other dementias.
As the baby boom generation has begun to reach age 65 and beyond, the age range most at risk of AD, these numbers are likely to escalate rapidly in coming years.
Unfortunately, at present there are yet medical breakthroughs to cure the disease. Scientists are still in search for mechanisms that fully explain this progressive brain disorder which damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss and changes in thinking, planning, and other brain functions.
The following are several hallmark brain abnormalities that have been identified with AD:
- Overproduction of and/or failure to clear beta-amyloid plaques (clusters of protein clumps) between nerve cells.
- Presence of tau tangles (twisted strands of another protein) in dead and dying nerve cells.
- Loss of connections among brain cells that are responsible for memory, learning, and communication.
- Inflammation, triggered by the body’s immune system.
- Eventual death of brain cells and severe tissue shrinkage throughout the brain.
For now, neuroscientists are still unable to get to the bottom of the Alzheimer’s puzzle. However, some very interesting research points to factors that may dramatically increase your risk of developing AD. Hence, by avoiding these factors, you have the ability to drastically reduce the likelihood of this deliberating disease before it occurs – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Although researchers have not found the exact mechanism how diabetes causes AD, they do know that high blood sugar and insulin can harm the brain. This is probably why many scientists are now naming Alzheimer’s as “type 3” diabetes.
- Diabetes raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, which hurt the heart and blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels in the brain may contribute to AD.
- The brain depends on many different chemicals, which may be unbalanced by too much insulin. Some of these changes may help trigger AD.
- High blood sugar causes inflammation, which may damage brain cells and help AD to develop.
A study published in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that in diabetics having the highest level of various diabetes associated factors, such as leg ulcers or vascular (blood vessels) issues, the risk of becoming demented was increased an astounding 37 fold!
When you have high blood sugar, it may be a sign of insulin resistance. In this disorder, the body becomes unresponsive to insulin, a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells and fuel vital functions. At first, the body makes more insulin to get the energy it needs. Eventually, the body is making all the insulin it can. If cells grow more insulin resistant, blood sugar will rise higher, and diabetes will develop.
Excess blood sugar and insulin can both damage the body. Doctors do not routinely measure insulin levels because the test is more expensive. However, here are some tell-tale signs of insulin resistance:
• A big waist (at least 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women),
• Blood pressure above 130/85, and/or
- Low levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol.
Research now clearly shows a direct correlation of average blood sugar levels and the rate at which the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, undergoes atrophy or shrinkage. As your hippocampus shrinks, so does your memory.
But the empowering part is that diabetes is totally preventable as it is a disease brought on by a wrong diet and sedentary lifestyle. By reducing your risk of diabetes, you consequently reduce your risk of AD.
Here are 3 things you can do to cut your risk of diabetes and AD:
- Dramatically reduce your carbohydrate (carb) intake. This includes all sugary foods, refined carbs, whole grains, root vegetables, fruits, and fruit juices as all carbs are eventually broken down into simple sugars, which will negatively affect your blood sugar and insulin when eaten in excess. The type of carbs that has minimal effect on blood sugar is above ground vegetables (such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage) as they are very low in carbs. Quantity of carbs is the key here.
- Substantially increase your consumption of “good” fats. Most people who become diabetic tend to use glucose as their primary fuel, which elevates blood sugar, promotes insulin resistance, and inhibits the body’s ability to burn body fat – hence, the connection between obesity and diabetes. Healthy fat, meanwhile, is a far preferable sort of fuel, as it does not have any effect on blood sugar. Sources include avocado, butter from grass-fed cows, coconut oil, fatty fish that are low in mercury (such as Alaskan salmon, sardines, and herrings), grass-fed beef, nuts and seeds, and extra virgin olive oil. Avoid cooking with processed oils like canola, corn, soy, and safflower and eating restaurant-fried foods; they have no place in a brain healthy diet.
- Get at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise every day. Among the different types of aerobics, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most effective as it increases the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), the brain’s growth hormone that promotes the survival of brain cells. As an alternative to doing steady-state cardio exercises daily, one may substitute with 2-3 times of HIIT every week.
2. Poor Sleep
A number of studies have associated poor sleep quality or lack of sleep with an increased risk of AD. Researchers found that getting less sleep or sleeping poorly (waking up multiple times) was tied to an increase in brain levels of beta-amyloid plaques, although they could not say whether poor sleep caused the accelerated buildup of beta-amyloid, or whether beta-amyloid accumulation was a cause of poor sleep.
Additional research suggests that one reason why poor sleep may be linked to AD is that sleep may help to clear toxic molecules from the brain. Apparently, during sleep the cells in the brain literally shrank, making more room for the flow of cerebral spinal fluid through the brain. This increased flow of fluid acted something like the jet sprays in a dishwasher, flushing away harmful waste products like beta-amyloid.
Scientists also found that sound sleep seemed to blunt the effects of APOE-E4, a gene that predisposes the development of AD. Individuals who carried the APOE-E4 gene and slept most soundly showed the greatest preservation of memory and thinking skills.
Many people with Alzheimer’s experience changes in their sleep patterns. They wake up more often and stay awake longer during the night. Individuals may feel very drowsy during the day and then be unable to sleep at night. Experts estimate that in late stages of AD, individuals spend about 40 percent of their time in bed at night awake and a significant part of their daytime sleeping. In extreme cases, people may have a complete reversal of the usual daytime-wakefulness and nighttime-sleep pattern.
Most studies show that adults aged 18-64 need 7-9 hours of sleep every night and seniors over age 65 need 7-8 hours. Therefore, to keep your AD risk in check, you want to have a good night’s sleep. If you are not sleeping well, try the following non-drug strategies to improve sleep routine before using sleep aids:
- Maintain regular times for meals and for going to bed and getting up.
- Seek morning sunlight exposure.
- Exercise daily, but no later than four hours before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
- Address any pain issues.
- If you suspect you have sleep apnea, seek treatment.
- If using medications that can cause wakefulness, try taking them earlier in the day.
- Do not watch TV or the computer screen one hour before bed. Do something relaxing rather than stimulating.
- Make sure the bedroom is completely dark and the temperature is slightly cool.
3. Heavy Metals
Though numerous studies have shown that heavy metals, such as aluminum, mercury, lead, and cadmium are extremely toxic to the brain, aluminum is the most commonly found metal in the brains of people with AD. The metal has a specific affinity for the brain, particularly the tangled brain cells that characterize the disease.
Independent studies performed in Norway, the United Kingdom, France, and Canada showed a direct correlation between the prevalence of AD and aluminum concentrations in the drinking water. In fact, one British study reported in the medical journal The Lancet, showed the risk of developing AD to be 50 percent greater where drinking water contained high levels of aluminum.
Scientists found that when aluminum crosses the blood-brain barrier and gets into the brain, it begins to replace minerals like magnesium in various enzymatic activities. As a consequence, it sets in motion a series of biochemical cascades involving abnormal processes, which may eventually lead to symptoms of AD.
Aluminum is an ingredient found in a wide range of items that many of us use every day. Some of these products include processed foods, medications, and even personal hygiene products.
- Aluminum pots and pans, aluminum foil, and soda and beer cans are all sources of excessive aluminum ingestion, especially when they are in contact with vinegar, and acidic fruits and juices including tomatoes.
- Processed cheese products, baking powder, cake mixes, self-rising flour, prepared doughs, instant chocolate mixes, free flowing table salt, pizza, pickles, and non-dairy creamers often contain aluminum additives, all approved by the FDA and are usually not listed on the ingredient labels.
- Hair spray, antidandruff shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, tooth-whitening products, douches, lipstick, and many cosmetics contain aluminum compounds.
- Vaccines, antacids, buffered aspirin, arthritis formulas, and antidiarrheal drugs contain aluminum.
- Talcum powder and cigarette smoke contain aluminosilicates.
Therefore, to lower your risk of developing AD, you want to avoid a buildup of aluminum in the body, especially the brain.
Eliminate all sources of aluminum cooking utensils. Anodized metal is coated aluminum. Glass cookware is the safest, but if you use metal cookware, use either stainless steel or cast iron. Most teflon-coated pans are aluminum-based but there are now ceramic cookware with non-toxic, non-stick surfaces.
Avoid ingesting aluminum or absorbing it through the skin by choosing aluminum-free food products and containers as well as personal hygiene items. Use a water filter that eliminates heavy metals.
Aluminum is more likely to accumulate in the brains of people who are magnesium deficient.
A principal way that aluminum appears to express toxicity is that it replaces magnesium ions at critical target sites in the cell. Chemically, aluminum is quite similar to magnesium; hence, the metal can compete effectively for magnesium binding sites.
Certain people are less inclined to get poisoned by aluminum than others because the presence of sufficient magnesium in the body helps fight off aluminum buildup by excreting it from the body, so levels stay normal. However, those without enough magnesium in the body tends to retain more aluminum.
There is a high prevalence of magnesium deficiency in the U.S. because most Americans do not eat enough magnesium-rich foods. They include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit, and dark chocolate.
Numerous studies have shown that for people who have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, eating foods that contain gluten can make the gut become permeable or “leaky”, which allows the gluten proteins to get into the bloodstream where they do not belong. This triggers the immune system to react and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity (immune system attacking the body’s own healthy cells and tissues).
Newer research found that for some people, gut permeability is also associated with blood-brain barrier permeability. This may explain to some degree the array of neurologic issues now correlated with gluten sensitivity. Hence, if you know or suspect you have gluten sensitivity, you should avoid all foods that contain gluten. However, be aware that gluten-free foods are not equivalent to healthy foods. They may contain harmful additives/ingredients or they may be very high in refined carbohydrates which will negatively affect your blood sugar when eaten in excess.
(Cyrex Lab’s Array 3 is the best test available right now for testing reactions against the full wheat proteome, not just gluten, but other proteins in wheat too.)
Supplements That Benefit The Brain
– Omega-3 fish oil
Omega-3 contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA is particularly important for supporting the structure and function of the brain. If DHA is deficient, the brain will not be constructed normally/optimally, nor will it be able to function normally/optimally. Hence, for prevention, take 1 gram of high quality fish oil every day.
– Vitamin D
- Many brain tissues contain vitamin D receptors. When they are activated by vitamin D, they facilitate nerve growth in the brain.
- Researchers believe that optimal vitamin D levels boost important brain chemicals and protect brain cells by increasing the effectiveness of glial cells in nursing damaged brain cells back to health.
- Vitamin D is anti-inflammatory and has immune-boosting properties.
- Studies showed that seniors with severe vitamin D deficiency may raise their risk for dementia by 125 percent.
- Get a blood test to make sure your vitamin D level is between 50-70 ng/ml.
- Curcumin comes from the curry spice called turmeric. It is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and has neuroprotective properties in a wide range of neurological disorders.
- Research has shown that curcumin helps inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta-amyloid in the brain of AD patients, as well as break up existing plaques.
- People with AD tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their brains, and curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory properties.
- Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body. In recent years, a number of forms with much better absorption have been introduced. Look for the BCM-95 form, Theracurmin, the Longvida form, or the liposomal form.
Ideally, get your magnesium from foods. If you are not eating enough dark leafy greens and other magnesium-rich foods, taking a magnesium supplement is a fallback. The best form of magnesium supplement for the brain is magnesium threonate due to its ability to get pass the blood-brain barrier.
Last but not least, challenge your mind every day. Mental stimulation, especially learning something new is associated with a decreased risk of AD.