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5 Ways to Help Reduce Alzheimer's Risk

Updated on August 31, 2014

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Of people 65 or older, about 1 in 8 have Alzheimer's. Most of them will live 4 to 8 years afterward the diagnosis. Some can live up to 20 years later. The disease progress at different rates depending on the individual. About half the people who met the clinical criteria for Alzheimer have not been diagnosed yet. These and other statistics are based on the Alzheimer's Association's 2011 facts and figures.

Early diagnosis is the key. Some people believe that once there is sufficient amyloid plaque in the brain, it is too damaged for treatment to render a cure. With advanced tests it is possible to detect the signs of certain types of Alzheimer's as much 20 year before clinical symptoms appear.

Better yet, the best strategy is to prevent the disease from developing in the first place or delay it to as late in life as possible. This strategy is possible via certain lifestyle changes that can reduces one's risk for Alzheimer's disease.

In order to reduce one's risk, we have to understand what causes Alzheimer's. Article Nutrition and Alzheimer's disease: The detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet has a good explanation:

"... excess of dietary carbohydrates, particularly fructose, alongside a relative deficiency in dietary fats and cholesterol, may lead to the development of Alzheimer's disease. A first step in the pathophysiology of the disease is represented by advanced glycation end-products in crucial plasma proteins concerned with fat, cholesterol, and oxygen transport. This leads to cholesterol deficiency in neurons, which significantly impairs their ability to function"

What this means sugar (fructose) and carbohydrates (which turns into sugar) are bad for the brain. And fat and cholesterol are good for the brain. As you shall see, tip #2 below is to avoid sugar. And tip #3 is to consume healthy fats. These are two most important dietary effects. Tip #1 is a lifestyle effect. And that is to exercise.

1. Exercise

One of the best ways to reduce risk of Alzheimer's Disease is physical exercise.

In the video on the right, Dr. Hyman says ..

"Exercising is one of the best things you can do to actually prevent Alzheimer's" [22:20 in video]

What is good for the heart is also good for the brain. People with cardiovascular disease are more likely to get Alzheimer's. Afterall, the brain requires good blood flow to bring oxygen to all the neurons. Your brain needs a lot of oxygen. It consume 20% of your body's oxygen even though it is only 2% of body weight. Aerobic exercise keeps your arteries flexible and pumps more blood to the brain.

Study in PubMed concludes ...

"Increased cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with reduced brain atrophy in Alzheimer disease "

Guess what is the number one rule in John Medina's book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.

That's right. It is exercise.

Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain, supplying the brain cells with essential oxygen and nutrients.

Aerobic exercise increases BDNF, which is brain-derived neurotrophic factor which can help spawn new brain cells in a process called neurogenesis. Neurogenesis requires ample oxygen flow to the brain, and aerobic exercise is exactly what provides this increased oxygen flow.

Exercise decreases inflammation and reduces blood sugar level, both condition of which is linked to increased risk of Alzheimer's. In addition to aerobic exercise, resistance training exercise is important too as it improve insulin sensitivity and glucose utilization.

The Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that exercise suppresses a inflammatory cytokine known as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) which is believed to be the driver for insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to Type II diabetes. People with diabetes has increase risk of Alzheimer's.

Also do some resistance training. Study with mice have shown that weight training also induces brain-derived neurotrophic factor production and may reduce risk of dementia. reports that both aerobic training and strength training improve memory.

In the book Super Brain by Deepak Chopra and neuroscientist Rudolph Tanzi, there is a section on how to stave off Alzheimer's. And the first point that it makes is about exercise. It writes...

"Exercise actually promoted gene activity that lowered beta-amyloid levels in the brain. Epidemiology studies also have confirmed that moderate exercise (three times per week for one hour) can lower risk for Alzheimer's. Once clinical trial indicated that sixty minutes of robust exercise twice a week was able to slow progression of the disease once it began." [page 300-301]

The book The First 20 Minutes writes of mice who exercised on wheel or had weights tied to their tails have better cognitive abilities as evidenced by their performance on water maze and other tasks.

2. Avoid Sugar to Avoid Metabolic Syndrome

The title of an article on Alzheimer's Weekly says it all: Sugar Shrinks Brain

You want to decrease sugar to avoid metabolic syndrome and diabetes which increases the risk of Alzheimer's. In fact, some people are calling Alzheimer's a kind of Type 3 Diabetes, or diabetes of the brain.

Pre-diabetic related conditions that can lead to Type 2 diabetes are high blood sugar, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, abdominal obesity are all . Together, these symptoms are known as metabolic syndrome. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by elevated blood sugar, elevated insulin levels, insulin resistance, and sometime obesity.

The book Primal Body, Primal Mind writes that ...

"Blood sugar surges stimulate accelerated glycation and an increase in the actions of insulin, leptin, inflammatory cytokines, and cortisol. These reactions collectively contribute more than any other factors to the degeneration of the brain and its functioning ..." [page 227]

And that ...

"Glycation is the primary cause of brain degeneration in aging and also in Alzheimer's disese" [page 231]

Glycation is the binding of sugar molecules to proteins.

In a Robb Wolf podcast, guest Dr. Perlmutter believes in a low-carb high-fat diet in reducing dementia. Perlmutter is the author of the book Grain Brain and he mentions association between higher blood sugars with reduced brain health.

People with Type 2 diabetes are more four times more likely to get Alzheimer's [reference: page 10 of The Blood Sugar Solution].

In order to avoid these metabolic syndrome and to prevent diabetes (whether it is traditional type 2 diabetes or diabetes of the brain), do not eat too much refined sugar or high-glycemic carbohydrates (which are carbohydrates that quickly turn into sugar). The foods to avoid are sugary beverages, sodas, juices, white rice, pastry, floury and starches foods such as potatoes, and processed food which often contain a lot of sugar.

It is the fructose portion of the sugar that is particularly harmful. Avoid all foods contain high-fructose corn syrup.

Exercise increases insulin sensitivity and decreases the chance of insulin resistance and diabetes. Weight training (also known as resistance training) moves blood glucose out of the blood stream and into the cells. This improves blood glucose levels, increases insulin sensitivity, and decrease the chance of getting diabetes.[reference]

To learn more about how blood sugar relates to Alzheimer's, read Dr. Emily Deans article in Psychology Today or her blog where in one post she writes ...

"Chronic systemic inflammation is known to cause cerebral atrophy, and is the likely mechanism behind the correlation between increased glucose and neurodegeneration."

Note that regular exercise can help decrease systemic inflammation.

Link Between Insulin Resistance and Alzheimer's and How to Reduce Insulin Resistance

3. Get Enough Healthy Fats

Your brain is 60% fat and half of that is saturated fat. The membranes of neurons are composed of fatty acids. And the myelin protective sheath for the neurons are 70% fat. If the membranes of all your neurons all laid flat, they would cover four soccer fields.

Many cells (for example your skin cells) in your body gets replaced on a regular basis. However, most neurons need to last for a lifetime. Hence it is important to keep these brain cells healthy by providing them with their main building blocks of healthy fats and reducing the oxidative stress upon them.

Natural dietary fat is one of the most brain-stabilizing foods. This was mentioned in Nora Gedgaudas presentation at the Ancestral Health Symposium where she says that omega-3 fatty acids are essential to mood, memory, cognition, and brain function. It helps modulate the stress hormone cortisol in the brain and it is anti-inflammatory.

Gedgaudas also mentions that blood sugar spikes from sugar and carbohydrates is very destabilizing neurologically and hormonally. Furthermore, the glycation of sugar is the primary cause of brain aging. This goes back to point number 2 of limiting sugar.

Get your omega-3 fatty acids from wild salmon (not farmed) and sardines. Supplement lightly with cod-liver oil or fish oil if you need to. These are polyunsaturated fats which can become oxidized and unhealthy if heated, so keep them refrigerated.

DHA omega-3 fats

Your body's highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids is in the brain. One-quarter of your brain's fatty acids are in a form of omega-3 known as DHA. Incidentally, our body's highest concentration of cholesterol is also in the brain. Yes, our body and our brain needs cholesterol. A quarter of our body's cholesterol is located in the brain.

Cold-water fish such as salmon, black cod, sardines are good sources of omega-3 (especially the DHA form of omega-3 that the brain really needs).

Although walnuts contain omega-3, they are the plant-based ALA form of omega-3 and the body has limited capacity to convert ALA into the DHA form. Best to get your omega-3 from seafoods.

Dr. Mercola especially like the DHA omega-3 fatty acids in krill. Krill is low in mercury and also provides the antioxidant astaxanthin alongside. As mentioned his video about healthy brain function, the brain not only needs DHA, it also like to have enough nutrients like phosphatidylserine and choline. By the way, he also mentions that exercise (especially high-intensity exercise) is very beneficial to the brain -- going back to point number one of exercise.

Article in Neurology found that omega-3 decreases the amount of beta-amyloid levels. High levels of beta-amyloid is linked with increased risk of Alzheimer's.

Other healthy fats are the monounsaturated fatty acids found in olives and avocados which keeps the cardiovascular system healthy. Remember that your brain needs good blood flow. Olive oil is great when used cold and unheated (as on salads).

Egg yolks contain healthy fats. Phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine are the twophospholipids that are the building blocks of cell membranes. Choline in egg yolk helps make up phosphatidylcholine. Eggs are one of the foods that helps keep cell membranes healthy.

Eggs are cells and therefore have all the ingredients for building healthy cells. Incidentally, choline is also the building block for the important neurotransmitter called acetylcholine which is involved in memory, concentration, and focus. It is fine for healthy adults to eat up to one egg per day.

Chris Masterjohn writes that ...

"A 1995 human study found that feeding eggs as a source of dietary cholesterol was helpful to elderly whose memory was impaired"

Saturated fat can be healthy fat too if they are from the right source. For example, the saturated fat in coconuts and pasture-raised beef and lamb are considered healthy by many health advocates. The fat from pasture-raised meats (as opposed to conventional feed-lot meats) have a much better omega-3 to omega-6 fat profile. And the fat contains less hormones and antibiotics.

Essay by Stephanie Seneff writes ...

"Coconut oil, a saturated fat, has been shown to benefit Alzheimer's patients"

She writes that saturated fat are NOT unhealthy. The brains of Alzheimer's patient are severely deficient in fats and cholesterol, which may have been caused by low-fat diets and statins.

To proactively reduce risk of Alzheimer's, Seneff writes ...

"... aim for something like 50% fat, 30% protein, and 20% carbohydrate, so as to pro-actively defend against Alzheimer's."

I'm assuming that this is 50% fat by calories, because many other health advocates are consuming over 50% of their calories as fat (read more here).

It is essential that your brain gets a dose of healthy fats every day. The brain loves healthy fats. Good fats are those from olive oils, olives, fish, eggs, avocado, walnuts, flaxseeds, pasture-raised meats, liver, and butter. Best to get your eggs, meats, and butter from pasture-raised animals. Dr. Andrew Weil talked about healthy fats on The Dr. Oz Show here.

Adding healthy fats to your meal helps slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, which reduces the risk of glucose spikes and metabolic syndrome as mentioned in the previous point.

But avoid the unhealthy fats. Avoid completely any trans fats, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, vegetable oils, and deep fried foods. Limit the amount of omega-6 fats since they are inflammatory and compete with the healthy omega-3 fats.

4. B-Vitamins for the Brain

For healthy brain, you need omega-3 and vitamin B. That rhymes and that is how you remember it.

The B vitamins (especially B6, B12, and folate) are great for brain health -- think B for brain. CNN reports that high homocysteine levels are associated increased risk of Alzheimer's and brain shrinkage. Vitamin B12 helps to lower homocysteine levels and decrease those risks.

Get your B vitamins from leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, bok choy, broccoli.

Vitamin B12 is found in meat, shellfish, and eggs. Ideally consume pasture-raised meats and eggs.

Organ meats such as liver and heart are particularly abundant in B vitamins.

Brain Supplements

But many of us are unable to get the optimum amounts of vitamins and minerals in our diet even when eating healthy. Therefore, some of may wish to supplement their diet with over-the-counter B vitamin supplements. Getting a B-complex which contain the full range of B vitamins is preferred over one type of B vitamin. B vitamins are water soluble and will be eliminated in the urine if your body does not need them. So they are safe and almost impossible to overdose.

Many people also would like to know what other supplements are good for the brain. Keep in mind that these are to be used as a supplement to a healthy diet, and not as a replacement for healthy diet. Foods are still the best.

The supplements for the brain that you should focus on are the antioxidant supplements and omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

For omega-3 fatty acids, get ones that contain both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is especially important since DHA is the most abundant fat in the brain. In his YouTube video, Dr. Oz says that he takes a multivitamin along with omega-3 every day. And here is what he said on the John Tesh radio show. Cod liver oil delivers other healthy vitamins (such as vitamins D and A) in addition omega-3.

Alpha-lipoic acid, astaxanthin, Co-Q10 are powerful antioxidants. Vitamin E and vitamin C together also provides good antioxidant effect and studies have shown that their combination may delay Alzheimer's. Co-Q10 supports the cell's power plants known as the mitochondria. Studies suggest that mitochondria dysfunction is one factor involved in Alzheimer's. [reference]

Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Alpha-Lipoic-Acid are known to support brain health, with the former having the ability to turn on some growth factors in the brain. Dr. Andrew Weil talked about these two supplements on The Dr. Oz Show and says that he takes them every day.

Phosphatidylserine, one of the building blocks of cell membranes, is also available as a brain healthy supplement.

Magnesium is needed to convert EPA to DHA.

Link between inflammation and Alzheimer's disease

5. Decrease Inflammation

Alzheimer's is an inflammatory disease. Some call it inflammation of the brain.

Although inflammation is not an initiating factor nor the cause of Alzheimer's, it is believed that inflammation plays a role in the pathogensis of the disease. This hypothesis is believed because they found that people who took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen long term had decreased risk of Alzheimer's.[reference] That is not say that one should take these drugs as a preventative measure. One should not take these drugs, unless directed by a doctor. And even those who do are, they are only taking low-dose baby aspirins.

Oxidative stress results from free radical molecules, or reactive oxygen species, that cause cellular damage to cells and DNA -- and that includes brain cells. Oxidative stress is a by-product of normal metabolism. However, when it runs out-of-control, you have inflammation.

Antioxidants helps neutralize these free radical molecules. That is why you hear a lot about antioxidants in health literature.

Foods high in antioxidants are fruits and vegetables in general. Berries are especially good, such as blueberries (think brain berries). Green tea, coffee, and dark chocolate are also good antioxidants.

Beside anti-oxidants, exercise and omega-3 fats also decreases inflammation, so you want to do more of those. Emily Deans explains how inflammation and Alzheimer's are linked and why it is important to get our omega-3 and omega-6 ratio in balance. We want to increase our anti-inflammatory omega-3 and decrease the pro-inflammatory omega-6.

Read more about the anti-inflammatory diet.

Sugar increases inflammation, so you want to eat less of those. Avoid deep fried foods which contain bad fats that causes an low-level inflammatory response. Avoid vegetable oils which contains bad oxidized fats that are inflammatory. Reduce exposure to environmental toxins and eat organic foods whenever possible.

Be cognizant of any food sensitivity that may cause low-grade chronic inflammation. Some people are sensitive to gluten or casein and may need to avoid such food if they are sensitive to it.

Food sensitivity can increase intestinal permeability that can lead to some autoimmune disease Autoimmune diseases can cause prolonged inflammatory responses. And so it is important to find the root cause of the autoimmunity and treat appropriately.


Article was written in July 2012 and is only opinion by author at the time of writing. This is not medical advice. Author is not a medical professional and may receive compensation from the display ads within content.


Of course, there are many more ways to reduce one's risk of Alzheimer's. Some resources on the web that you might want to look into are ...


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