While Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be an aging-related disease, much like heart disease, neither of these serious health conditions should be considered a “natural” result of the aging process. It is true that both diseases may involve genetic predispositions that we cannot control, yet heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease are also fueled by environmental factors that we absolutely can control with lifestyle modifications.
The Inflammation Connection
Inflammation is one of the top risk factors for heart disease, and a much more accurate predictor of a future cardiac event than high cholesterol levels. Similarly, researchers have long recognized that brain inflammation plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease, and many now believe that inflammation is the cause—rather than the result—of Alzheimer’s.
Excess free radical activity leads to chronic inflammation throughout the body. That’s because free radicals can cause oxidative stress and inflammatory cytokines, which are toxic to cells and markers for both brain inflammation as well as an increased heart disease risk.
Controlling Alzheimer’s Risk Factors
In addition to chronic inflammation, there are a number of other Alzheimer’s risk factors that are also important to consider:
- Presence of the APO E4 allele (This is a genetic marker that increases your risk of both heart disease and Alzheimer’s and necessitates strict adherence to a risk reduction program.)
- High blood pressure
- High LDL cholesterol levels
- History of stroke
- Head trauma
With the exception of age and having the APO E4 allele (which can be determined through genetic testing), the other Alzheimer’s risk factors listed above are somewhat in our control with certain lifestyle modifications. For instance, you can influence your incidence of head trauma. According to the Alzheimer's Association, there may be a strong link between serious head injuries—especially those involving a loss of consciousness—and future risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Protect your brain by always buckling seatbelts, wearing a helmet during athletic endeavors, and "fall-proofing" your home and work environments the same way you "baby-proof" for your little ones.
Alzheimer’s Prevention with Diet
Studies have reported a connection between Alzheimer's patients and lower insulin levels in their cerebral spinal fluid, which nourishes the brain and spinal cord. Although further research is needed to determine whether ideal glucose metabolism will actually prevent Alzheimer's disease, the fact remains that the incidence of insulin resistance syndrome is higher in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
To avoid insulin resistance as well as decrease inflammation in the body, follow my anti-inflammatory Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) diet, which restricts processed carbohydrates that can cause your blood sugar to soar. Some of the worst food offenders include:
- Beer (maltose)
- Processed cereals
Higher-carb fruits that you should eat in moderation include raisins, bananas, and watermelon. Plus, remember that refined sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, and commercial fruit juices (especially concentrates) have a high glycemic index, resulting in higher blood sugar.
If you must have some of these foods, make sure your portions are small and combine them with low-sugar foods, such as nuts, beans, plain yogurt, skim milk, soy products, flax, salads and other green leafy vegetables.
By reducing your sugar intake, you will not only lower your triglycerides, you'll lose weight, have more energy, and prevent major degenerative diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and possibly Alzheimer's.
Higher HDL Levels May Protect the Brain
Researchers have uncovered a connection between higher HDL cholesterol levels and better brain health. A 2010 study concluded that those with higher levels of HDL cholesterol had a lower incidence of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Higher HDL cholesterol may also protect against Alzheimer’s because it reduces your risk of stroke, and may help prevent amyloid-ß proteins from accumulating in the brain.
To increase your HDL cholesterol levels:
- Quit smoking
- Maintain an optimal body weight (obesity is associated with reduced HDL levels)
- Avoid trans fats (which increase LDL cholesterol and reduce HDL cholesterol levels)
- Consume more soluble fiber, as well as monounsaturated and omega-3 fats
- Participate in regular moderate aerobic exercise