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Alzheimer's disease

Every 66 seconds, someone in the Unites States develops Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia, is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that affects an estimated 5.4 million Americans and by 2050 that number could rise as high as 16 million.

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are not completely understood, but researchers believe they include a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. In more than 90% of people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms do not appear until after age 60. The incidence of the disease increases with age and doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.

In 2017, total payments for health care, long-term care, and hospice for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are estimated to be $259 billion. Medicare pays almost half of these costs.

Experts now believe these amyloid plaques and the tangles that are hallmark of this disease, start occurring in people’s brains 10 to 15 years before any symptoms like memory loss begin to show.

Despite the billions of dollars spent on research, there is still no cure. Our current therapeutic approach is to slow down the progression of the disease. Until new drugs are developed that could intervene before irreversible brain damage is done, is there anything we can do to prevent this deadly disease?

One of the biggest headlines that emerged from The Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017 suggested that an estimated 1 in 3 cases of dementia is preventable. Here are six scientifically proven lifestyle approaches that can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease:
  1. Diet: Diets that are rich in plant foods and minimize animal fats like Mediterranean diet have been associated with slower cognitive decline and lower risk of Alzheimer’s. The protective ingredients appeared to be diet’s high vegetable content and lower ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats. In Harvard Women’s health study, higher saturated fat intake (sourced predominantly from dairy, meat and processed foods) was associated with significantly worse trajectory of cognition and memory. Women with the highest saturated fat intake had a 60-70% greater chance of cognitive deterioration over time. Women with lowest saturated fat intake had the brain function, on average, of women six years younger. Antioxidant properties of berries and dark green leafy vegetables make them the brain foods of the fruit and vegetable kingdom. In addition studies have shown benefits of turmeric and saffron as well. Older adults with high levels of advanced glycation end products, or AGEs in their blood or urine appear to suffer from loss of cognitive function over time. Where are these AGEs coming from? Apart from smoking, major sources are meat and meat derived products exposed to dry-heat cooking methods. They are formed when fat and protein rich foods are exposed to high temperatures. Animal studies have shown that Alzheimer’s is a disease of old carnivores (animals that feed on flesh) whereas old herbivores (animals that feed on plants) do not get Alzheimer’s disease. Considering that it takes decades to develop this disease, it’s never too early to start eating healthier.  
  2. Exercise: There have been many studies and trials to prove that exercise lowers risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In 2010, a study published in the Archives of Neurology, a group of people with mild cognitive impairment put them on aerobic exercise for 40-60 minutes a day, four days a week for 6 months. The control group was instructed to simply stretch for the time periods. Results showed that in the control group cognition function continued to decline. But the exercising group not only didn’t get worse, they got better. They got more answers correct after six months, indicating their memory had improved. Subsequent studies using MRI scan found that aerobic exercise can actually reverse age- related shrinkage in the memory centers of the brain. No such effect was found in the stretching and toning groups or a nonaerobic strength training group. Aerobic exercise can help improve cerebral flow, improve memory performance, and help preserve brain tissue.
  3. Sleep: Studies have showed that in deep sleep, amyloid production is turned off. Deep sleep also helps to consolidate short-term memories into long-term memories, and its when the brain sort of “cleans” itself. To get into deep sleep, you have to sleep for enough time- more than just four to five hours.
  4. Reduce stress: Managing your day to day stress better is good for the entire body, especially the brain. Stress management techniques like yoga, meditation and visualization could help you manage your stress better.
  5. Social Interaction: Studies suggest that loneliness can lead to additional stress and may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Prioritize social engagement and stay in touch with family members and friends.
  6. Learn New Things: Not only physical exercise but mental exercise is just as important in preventing and delaying the onset of cognitive decline. Learning new skills can build new nerve connections that maintain optimal brain health. Experts say, it is more than just a crossword puzzle, try adopting a new hobby, learning a new language, or playing a new musical instrument.

This information provided by our experts at the Lifestyle Medicine Center

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