I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease,” Ronald Reagan, former president of the United States, announced in November 1994. “I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this Earth doing the things I have always done,” he declared. “Unfortunately, as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience.”
In his message, Reagan summed up the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Those suffering from AD face the reality of losing touch with their old lives. Family and friends are forced to watch a loved one slowly fall victim to the dreadful condition.
Scientists aren’t sure exactly what’s behind AD. Some suspect a certain gene – apolipoprotein E 4 allele (Apo E4) – plays a major part in your brain’s decline. Other experts believe years of oxidative stress also are at the root of the problem.
Whatever causes Alzheimer’s disease attacks the part of your brain that controls speech, thoughts, and memory. You gradually lose the power to recall the past and the ability to carry out your daily life. AD usually hits around age 65 and older, and your risk goes up each year after that.
Through this dark cloud, however, there is a ray of hope. According to AD experts like Dr. Grace Petot, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, people can change their lifestyles to lower their risk. Boost your fruit and vegetable intake for a start.
From her research, Petot discovered that many AD sufferers ate fewer fruits and veggies as adults.
Science, she suggests, also points to a connection between heart disease and Alzheimer’s. So eating a heart-healthy diet might protect you, too. That means a lot of high-fiber, low-fat foods. It’s also a good idea to exercise both your mind and your muscles. “Keeping the brain active and the body active,” Petot says, “is beneficial in many ways.”
Nutritional blockbusters that fight AD
Thanks to cutting-edge research, experts now hope AD can one day be prevented. Antioxidants, those powerful substances that fend off cancer and heart disease, might also safeguard your brain against free radicals. Antioxidants appear to slow – and even reverse – the memory loss caused by free-radical damage.
Supplements usually only contain one antioxidant, so eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to get the most benefit. Fruits and vegetables are rich in many antioxidants – not just beta carotene or vitamin C, but flavonoids, too. Flavonoids make memory-saving marvels out of snacks like blueberries, strawberries, and spinach.
You also need foods rich in B vitamins to help protect your brain from AD. At least two studies show Alzheimer’s sufferers have lower levels of folate and B12 than their non-AD peers. Low B-vitamin levels, according to several other studies, appear to lead to lower scores on IQ and memory tests.
Vitamin B 12 helps your body make neurotransmitters, chemicals that help carry messages between your nerves and brain. Another B vitamin, thiamin, helps nerve signals travel from your brain to different parts of your body. These important tasks could be why a lack of B vitamins might affect your brain’s health.
To get more folate into your diet, try dark leafy greens, broccoli, beets, beans, and okra. Meats, eggs, and dairy products are good sources of B12. For older adults, who might have trouble absorbing B12, experts suggest eating fortified breakfast cereals. Wheat germ, nuts, beans, and rice will give you your full day’s supply of thiamin.
Look to the sea to find help against Alzheimer’s. Fish are the greatest source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fat molecules protect against heart disease and inflammation and may lead the attack against Alzheimer’s as well. One of AD’S possible causes is beta-amyloid plaque, clumps of protein that build up in the victim’s brain. Experts believe beta amyloid might be connected with inflammation of the brain’s blood vessels. So it makes sense that anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids could help.
It’s a good idea to eat as much fish as you can net. Experts recommend at least two servings of salmon, tuna, mackerel, or other cold-water fish per week. For you landlubbers who think fish are for the birds, get your omega-3 from flaxseed, walnuts, and dark leafy greens. And while you punch up omega-3, limit your intake of omega-6 fatty acids. They compete with omega-3 and can cause inflammation. Foods high in omega-6 include fried and fast foods, salad dressings, and baked goods.