As people get older, one of their greatest fears is the fear of losing their mental functions, a condition referred to as dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in older people, robbing them of their cognitive ability and making it harder for them to think, remember, and reason. It destroys a person's memory, particularly short term memory and the capacity to think clearly, eventually making it difficult for them to perform very basic activities.
AD was named after a German physician, Alois Alzheimer, who in 1906 first identified the condition when he performed a post mortem examination on the brain of a woman who had suffered severe memory loss and confusion for years.
Fewer men are diagnosed with AD than women but it is still a problem that men need to be aware of. About 16 percent of women over age 70 have this progressive brain disease compared with 11 percent of men in the same age range but his may be due to the fact that women tend to live longer than men. Unfortunately, these numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. Here are some useful definitions relevant to this subject.
Dementia – the usually progressive deterioration of mental function such as memory that can occur while other brain functions such as those controlling movement and the senses are retained.
Senile dementia – a form of brain disorder marked by progressive and irreversible memory deterioration, memory loss, and disorientation known to affect people after about 65 years of age.
Alzheimer's Disease is a specific form of dementia. Although all AD patients have dementia, not all dementia patients have AD. AD is the most common neurodegenerative disorder and the major cause of senile dementia. The Alzheimer's Association defines AD as an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks, ending inevitably in death.
The Cause of Alzheimer’s Disease
Abnormal deposits of specific proteins in certain areas of the brain disrupt normal brain function and cause the problems typically associated with AD. Eventually, as the deposits spread more widely throughout the brain, more cells die, leading to further impairment. The resulting brain shrinkage can be seen in brain CT scans and MRIs of victims of the condition. Current research is focused on trying to determine what causes these deposits and is looking for ways to prevent or reverse them before they create permanent brain damage.
Although there does seem to be a genetic disposition for the disease, other factors may influence whether or not an individual develops AD. Some researchers have begun to believe that prevention is possibly the best "cure" for AD. Recent studies have found that by reducing the known heart disease risk factors, changing the diet, and stimulating the mind, a person may be able to prevent AD.
Heart health equals brain health. Like the heart the brain depends on a good blood supply, and the health of the brain is closely linked to the overall health of the heart and blood vessels. By lowering heart disease risk factors like high blood sugar, high blood pressure, elevated bad cholesterol and obesity, one may reduce or delay the chances of developing AD. Interestingly, the presence of diabetes creates a big increase in the risk of AD.
Research suggests that your diet may be a very important factor in preventing AD and dementia. Here are some guidelines:
Eat the right fats
A high intake of animal fats is associated with increased risk of developing dementia and the prevalence of AD is lower in countries where dietary fat and caloric content was lower. A high consumption of linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated fatty acid), found in margarine, butter and other dairy products, is positively associated with impairment of mental function.
On the other hand, an increased intake of essential omega 3 fats from fish oil and seeds will promote brain health. Recent reports strongly suggest that daily consumption of virgin coconut oil (a tablespoon or more) may decrease the risk of the development or progression of AD. The research indicates that special fats called medium chain triglycerides found particularly in coconut oil help the brain function better.
Eat more Fruit and Vegetables
According to a study done at Boston University and Tufts University, people with high blood levels of a toxic byproduct called homocysteine, double their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Homocysteine is as amino acid whose levels can rise when people do not eat enough fruits or leafy vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are essential in providing B vitamins to the human body and these B vitamins effectively lower homocysteine levels. I recommend that adults have at least 7 servings of vegetables and fruit daily.
Be careful with Carbs – alcohol, starch and sugar.
Heavy alcohol consumption is definitely associated with accelerated brain damage. Experts estimate that a single drink of ‘hard’ liquor may destroy up to 100,000 brain cells. Moderate consumption of red wine however (less than 2 glasses per day) is associated with a decreased incidence of dementia but this may be related to the healthy antioxidant flavinoids in red wine and not its alcohol content. At the same time, it is very important to minimize your intake of processed starches and sugars.
Eat healthy protein - and omega 3 fats
A Canadian study suggests a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and sardines, and taking omega 3 supplements, can help keep Alzheimer's disease at bay. The research provides the strongest evidence so far that a deficiency in this specific dietary component can have a direct impact on a person's risk of developing the devastating disease. Your intake of other healthy proteins like beans, peas, nuts and seeds is important to brain health.
Ultimately diet may play a key role in avoiding AD as studies show that a diet low in unhealthy fats that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables may help keep the brain healthy.
Take nutritional supplements
I recommend a wide range of supplements for optimal brain function:
B complex vitamins. These are vital for a healthy nervous system and are needed in greater quantities when you are under stress. They will also lower elevated homocysteine levels. Special attention must be paid to maintaining optimal levels of vitamins B3, B6, Folic and B12. The ACES: the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E and the mineral Selenium. Brain nutrients: Phosphatidyl serene, lecithin, choline, CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid. Herbs: Ginkgo Biloba, Guarana and Ginseng. Hormones: Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), Melatonin, Pregnenelone and Progesterone
While there is still major controversy about this issue, several experts have suggested that aluminum plays a role in the disease. Autopsy examination of the brains of people who were diagnosed with AD revealed much higher levels of brain aluminum than in non AD brain tissue. I definitely recommend that we seek to minimize our exposure to aluminum and if necessary use a process called chelation therapy to remove it from our bodies.
Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth's crust. In addition to the many dietary sources of aluminum, such as processed cheese, beer, antacid tablets, some teas, toothpaste, infant formula, aluminum cookware, drinking water, and pharmaceutical products, we are also exposed to aluminum when we applying most deodorants to our skin and when we inhale aluminum laden dust.
Keep your mind sharp.
People who exercise their minds by maintaining an active social life, enjoying intellectual pursuits, and performing mentally challenging activities (such as crossword puzzles, scrabble and Sudoku) as they grow older are more likely to avoid Alzheimer's or delay its progress.
The bottom line is that there is a great deal we can do to avoid this clear and present danger.