By Dr. Lydia
The devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease impacts one in eleven Canadians, with numbers expected to rise by 50% within the next generation. Imagine not being able to remember how to make tea or your children’s names. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is progressive and terminal. There are medications that can slow the rate of cognitive decline; however, it is imperative that we take steps to promote healthy aging and brain health.
Current diet recommendations to prevent Alzheimer’s should include healthy doses of vitamin E and vitamin C. The brain is a highly active organ that needs antioxidants to prevent damage. Vitamin E reduces inflammation and stabilizes neurons. Vitamin C circulates in the blood and serves to regenerate vitamin E. In all of the research on diet and Alzheimer’s these vitamins came from food sources, not supplements. Vitamin E is found in high amounts in sunflower seeds, almonds, and wheat germ oil. The best sources of vitamin C are strawberries, bell peppers and papaya, although this vitamin is found in all fruits and vegetables.
Getting cholesterol levels in check is another way to protect your brain health. High level of saturated fat and trans fats raise blood cholesterol levels and cause inflammation of the neurons in your brain. Adopt a diet that emphasizes plant based foods and fish. The best fish have a healthy dose of omega 3 fats, especially DHA and low contamination with environmental toxins. Wild sockeye salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel are my top fish picks.
Not only does a diet high in animal protein elevate cholesterol levels, it is also linked to a toxic amino acid called homocysteine. Homocysteine causes inflammation of our blood vessels and circulation problems. The brain is very sensitive to reduced blood supply. Homocysteine levels can be reduced with B vitamins, folic acid and green leafy vegetables. While not included in routine blood work, this is a test you can ask your naturopathic doctor or medical doctor to run if you are concerned about your blood levels.
As little as 12 weeks of moderate exercise a few days per week strengthens neural connections and circulation to the brain. In fact, exercise might be one of the best ways you can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. One of my favorite brain health promoting exercises is tai chi. The combination of the gentle rhythmic movements and memory work as you go through the sets makes it a great way to promote healthy aging.
There is some genetic basis for Alzheimer’s disease. Early onset, before the age of 50 has a stronger familial link than late onset Alzheimer’s (after age 60). If you have a family member with late onset Alzheimer’s, your chances of getting the disease are unpredictable and are influenced by lifestyle factors like intellectual stimulation, exercise and diet. When it comes to your brain health, if you don’t use it you lose it. Interesting conversations, puzzles and learning new hobbies protects your brain and keeps your neuronal connections firing.