With some 5.7 million Americans presently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and many more patients to follow as our country’s population ages, this devastating brain disease is poised to be one of the leading causes of disability, death, financial ruination, and heartbreaking loss for years to come.

For now, there are no cures for Alzheimer’s disease.  Even drugs intended to lessen or slow down the advance of symptoms can work far better (or worse) for one patient than for another.  There are no certain preventives, either; although, there are some steps we can take to help delay onset of the condition and preserve a higher level of cognition for a longer time into our futures.

While we wait for scientific discovery to fill in the blanks about Alzheimer’s causes, treatments, and hopefully, cures, there are some things we can do to help ourselves delay onset of the disease or slow its effects if the ailment is already active.  This Alzheimer’s article will focus on a variety of these brain health issues.

Tips for Preserving Brain Health:

– Every person should work to ensure good heart health first. Some of the strongest evidence for improving cognitive function resides with making improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and obesity.

– Get or stay physically active. “Exercise” of any kind is helpful to the brain, but aerobic exercise has been shown to grow the volume of brain regions that tend to shrink during aging.

– People should stay or get cognitively active. Being engaged with the world intellectually over the course of a person’s life is one of the best ways to preserve brain function.  Reading, writing letters, learning a new skill, tinkering with a home improvement or decorative project, or playing challenging games that require thought, planning, or responding to novel situations are all examples of ways to positively stimulate the brain and improve cognitive health.

– Be social in daily life. More active social lives are associated with higher levels of cognition, both in scientific study results and by informal report.  Conversely, loneliness is associated with poor brain function, as well as an increase in mental illnesses like depression.

– Avoiding depression is another way to improve the odds of avoiding cognitive decline. Depression in middle age is linked to a doubling of risk of cognitive decline in later years.  The association between the two conditions is not a clear case of cause and effect, but depressive symptoms in a person should be addressed promptly, both for the relief of the depression and for lowering risk of other brain issues in the future.

– Various studies point to a relationship between poor sleep and cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep apnea sufferers are known to have an especial risk for memory problems and other types of cognitive impairment due to their brains being deprived of oxygen several times each night while sleeping.One of the more interesting studies to come to the public’s attention recently showed the importance of doing at least some side sleeping each night.  Sleeping on the side, left or right, has been shown to do a better job of clearing protein build-up in the brain than either back or stomach sleeping. Getting the recommended 7 – 9 hours of sleep per day is also important to both everyday mental clarity and to overall brain health in the future.

– Dietary tweaks that can have significant impact on cognitive function have been in the news lately. One such interesting study comes from Penn State researchers, who report that consuming three cups of mushrooms weekly can slow brain aging by 30% and can halt the development of dementia.  Much of mushrooms brain saving properties come from two compounds, ergothioneine and glutathione, that work together to keep blood vessels free of plaque and sturdy, thereby improving circulation to the brain.

– Another surprising dietary tidbit comes from a study described in the journal, Current Neuropharmacology, which detailed how polyphenols and chlorogenic acid, which are natural compounds, have been found to help ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Even more interesting is that eggplant is loaded with these above-mentioned natural compounds, as well as nasunin, an anti-aging anti-oxidant that is known to help strengthen protective neural membranes and improve blood flow to the brain.  So, eat generously when consuming the beautiful purple eggplant; it can do more for the brain than anyone ever suspected!

Hopefully, these brain health tips will prove useful to your overall pro-health program.  Go forth and fight back against the brain robbing disease of Alzheimer’s and the related forms of dementia!

Part 2 – Confronting Alzheimer’s Disease

Part 1 of this month’s article on Alzheimer’s disease focused largely on aspects of lifestyle that can improve cognitive health, as well as a couple of dietary tips. Now, in Part 2, let’s look, briefly, at what Alzheimer’s disease is and its symptoms and then touch on a few more dietary tips that can help dissuade 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.”  The disease was identified first by a German physician, Alois Alzheimer, in 1906, after performing an autopsy on a woman who’d been suffering severe memory loss and confusion for years.  It was during this autopsy that Dr. Alzheimer discovered the plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that we now know are the hallmarks of the degenerative brain disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be caused by an abnormal build-up of certain proteins in the brain.  One of these proteins is beta amyloid, which accumulates and forms plaques outside of the brain’s nerve cells.  Tau is another abnormal protein, which can proliferate and bunch up into tangles inside the nerve cells.  Eventually, these nerve cells die from the toxic build-up of proteins, and the stage is set for the gradual decline of mental function from Alzheimer’s disease.  Presently, it is unclear whether Alzheimer’s patients simply “overproduce” the troublesome proteins or whether the patients are simply unable to clear away the normally produced proteins in an efficient manner due to factors that are not presently fully understood.  More research will fill in the missing pieces in time.  Meanwhile, we should be cognizant of symptoms of the disease in ourselves and in others.  Like any other ailment, the sooner a problem is addressed, the greater the likelihood of some relief of symptoms, at least for a while.

Keep in mind, however, that Alzheimer’s disease is presently always fatal.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of 10 warning signs of possible Alzheimer’s disease affliction in a patient.  It’s important to note that these symptoms also may be indicative of other types of dementia or even other conditions, such as depression or dehydration.

If you or a loved one exhibits any of the symptoms listed below, please see a doctor as soon as possible to determine the nature of the problem and get appropriate treatment.

The ten warning signs are as follows:

(1.) Memory loss that disrupts daily life, (2.) Challenges in planning or solving problems, (3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure, (4.) Confusion with time or place, (5.)Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, (6.) New problems with words in speaking or writing, (7.) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, (8.) Decreased or poor judgment, (9.) Withdrawal from work or social activities, (10.) Changes in mood and personality.

There are so many forms of dementia, that it is crucial to get an accurate diagnosis, so as to receive an effective treatment.  Some forms of dementia and some physical ills that have a cognitive or emotional component have much rosier outcome potentials than Alzheimer’s disease; they also have much different treatment protocols than Alzheimer’s, again making accurate diagnosis and treatment of paramount importance.  Always consult dementia experts if Alzheimer’s is suspected.

While we wait for scientific research to lead us down the road to greater understanding of this dreaded condition, we should avail ourselves of possible aids to avoiding or forestalling the development of dementia.

Here are a few more tips to help retain your good cognitive function for as long as possible:

– Boston University research shows that adults whose diets are rich in the essential B-vitamin, choline, perform better on memory tests and have fewer signs of impaired thinking skills with age. A natural source of choline is egg yolk, and consuming eggs regularly is recommended to help provide this necessary nutrient.  Choline is also available in supplement form for those persons needing or preferring to avoid eggs.

– Avocados are very rich in ultra-healthy mono-unsaturated fats as well as lutein. Mono-unsaturated fats promote blood flow to the brain, while lutein is known to enhance both mood and memory.  Be sure to include avocados in the diet for brain health, as well as the fruit’s well-known heart health benefits.

– One other “heart healthy” food that aids brain function is olive oil. Olive oil consumption among studied adults found that those persons who consumed olive oil regularly were 60% less likely to have cognition problems.  Another olive oil study – this one from Spain – found that women who consumed a teaspoon of the oil daily performed better on “brainteaser” exercises after 30 days on the regimen.

– A study detailed in Scientific Reports found that drinking a glass of red or white wine can help clear the toxins out of the brain, including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Just be sure to stick to one glass a few times per week.  Excess wine consumption (or excessive alcohol of any kind) can harm brain cells and other aspects of health.

– Canadian scientists have found that consuming one-third cup of peanuts or 2 Tbs. of sugar-free peanut butter per day sharpens memory by 41% and reduces the risk of cognitive decline by 37%. Manganese, copper, and p-Coumaric acid found in peanuts speed healing of damaged neurons, especially if not paired with brain-aging sugars.

– Finnish researchers have found that consuming three cups of bell peppers per week reduces risk of memory lapses and premature brain aging by 55%. Additionally, the colorful peppers are naturally rich in carotenoids, which are compounds that help to strengthen the capillaries that bring blood and nutrients to the cells of the brain.  As a result of this better blood flow, research subjects exhibited brain function comparable to that of brains approximately six years younger than the actual ages of the test subjects.

Hopefully, the information in this article and its previous companion piece posted on Sept. 12, 2018 will have given you some additional weapons to use to fight the looming specter of dementia.  Most reports close to Alzheimer’s research seem to “feel” that some breakthroughs are not too many years in the future.  However long the wait turns out to be, let’s use the tools we have now to preserve our irreplaceable cognitive health.

All the best to you and your brain!

Darra McMullen is a Women’s Health Network Writer and Researcher.

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