By David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM Board-certified neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition Practitioner of Functional Medicine and author of five books, including Power Up Your Brain
Ever walk in to a room and forget why you went there in the first place? Are you finding that you’re losing your keys or reading glasses more frequently or becoming forgetful of people’s names. While we often dismiss these lapses as simply representing “senior moments,” in fact, these experiences may very well indicate that a more sinister disease process is beginning to raise its head.
As a neurologist, I have all too often had the experience of speaking with family members of an Alzheimer’s disease patient who have sadly recounted how mom or dad’s problem began with exactly these types of complaints. Almost always, they will express how they wished they could have done something early on, or even looked into the idea of preventing the disease.
Alzheimer’s, now affecting more than 5.5 million Americans, is a devastating situation, not just for the patient, but for the families and caregivers as well. And the truth of the matter is that there exists absolutely no meaningful medical treatment for this disease that will ultimately affect a full one-half of those of us living to 85 years of age.
But despite the bad news, we are now learning some very encouraging things about actually preventing Alzheimer’s disease. While for years we’ve been hearing about a “heart-smart diet” or eating foods to “reduce the risk of diabetes,” what’s so exciting for me is that specific lifestyle choices can have a dramatic effect in terms of actually reducing Alzheimer’s risk (more on this later).
Alzheimer’s disease, like coronary artery disease, arthritis and even cancer, is triggered by inflammation. While most of us can easily recognize the role of inflammation in a painful arthritic joint, it is the exact same process that has now been identified as playing a pivotal role in Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the same laboratory markers used by doctors to measure the degree of inflammation in the body in an attempt to determine cardiac risk are just as effective in predicting risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Beyond the laboratory studies, lifestyle choices aimed at reducing inflammation – the same ones that are recommended for weight loss, reducing the risk for heart disease and diabetes – can absolutely help to keep your brain healthy and resistant to Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are my top five brain-preserving recommendations:
1. Reduce foods that raise blood sugar. Higher blood sugar increases inflammation. Avoid refined grains, and reduce grain consumption in general. Eat more vegetables than fruit, and favor vegetables that are grown “above ground.”
2. Eat more fat. While this may run counter to what you’ve been told, studies clearly show that higher levels of good fats like those found in virgin olive oil, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, wild fish, and even grass-fed beef, are brain protective. It’s the bad fats, meaning those fats that have been modified or hydrogenated, as well as trans fats, that are clearly bad for the brain.
3. Exercise. Research demonstrates a marked reduction in Alzheimer’s risk among those who regularly exercise aerobically. I recommend 20 minutes of aerobic exercise 6 or 7 days each week. In fact, new research actually shows increased growth of the brain’s “memory center” in people who exercise regularly.
4. Sleep at least 8 hours each night. Inadequate sleep is strongly associated with Alzheimer’s risk.
5. Take an omega-3 supplement containing DHA. According to the well-respected Framingham Study, individuals consuming the highest levels of DHA, a powerful natural anti-inflammatory, may have as much as a 40% risk reduction for Alzheimer’s disease.
Remember, despite what may have occurred in your family members, you absolutely have the power to change your health destiny.