Around 50 million people have dementia worldwide, and Alzheimer’s disease contributes to 60-70% of those cases. So it's no surprise that many of us are frighteningly aware of the potential threat of living with these conditions.
Dementia is a chronic and progressive syndrome with a range of conditions that affect brain function, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. With dementia, the nerve cells in the brain become damaged, impairing messaging signals to and from the brain.
Every person is unique, and symptoms vary but can include problems with memory and the processing of information, including dates and times, lapses in concentration and focus, and confusion.
Communication can also become difficult; for example, someone may grapple with finding the right words; they might become repetitive and struggle with reading and writing. They may also become depressed and anxious, experience mood swings, lose confidence and become more introverted.
A person with Alzheimer's loses the connections between nerve cells in their brain due to proteins building up and forming plaques and tangles, resulting in nerve cell death and lost brain tissue. Someone with Alzheimer’s also has less chemical messengers in their brain and signalling becomes defective.
While the threat of dementia and Alzheimer’s is very real, here are six things you can do to help reduce your risk of getting them.
1) Control your blood sugar levels by limiting sugar intake
Type 2 diabetes can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, so it’s vital to keep an eye on your overall sugar intake.
According to the Canadian Alzheimer’s Society, recent studies suggest that people with Alzheimer’s have brains in a diabetic state. Glucose is utilised incorrectly in their brains, which may be caused by nerve cell death.
Beta amyloids are protein fragments found in the brain, and they are a by-product of the breaking down of a larger protein called amyloid precursor protein (APP).
A healthy brain will dismantle and discard beta amyloids, but this mechanism becomes impaired in someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Consequently, they build up between the nerve cells of the brain, forming hard, insoluble plaques.
These plaques are toxic and disrupt brain cell function. They have also been shown to interfere with the insulin receptors in the brain, impacting insulin production and causing the brain cells to become insensitive to insulin.
Advanced glycated end-products (AGEs) are proteins and lipids that have become damaged from exposure to sugar. When blood sugar is chronically high, they become more prevalent, significantly impacting on the development of degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
AGEs cause direct damage to the brain, stimulating oxidative stress and inflammation and harming blood vessels.
To decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, dementia or diabetes, it’s vital to monitor your sugar intake and eat healthily.
Be aware of hidden sugars in packaged and processed foods, including breakfast cereals. Try to avoid these foods altogether, reduce your consumption of sugar-laden treats and cook from scratch whenever possible.
Swap foods like white bread, pasta, and rice for the brown, whole-grain versions which are higher in fibre and digest more slowly, helping to regulate blood sugar.
Eat a wide variety of fresh vegetables and some fruits, and include healthy protein with every meal.
2) Consider taking a berberine supplement
Berberine is a natural, yellow alkaloid found in several healing plants such as Oregan Grape, Tree Turmeric, Goldenseal, Barberry, Cork-Tree and Chinese Goldthread.
There are an increasing amount of studies looking into the health benefits of berberine, of which there are many.
There is substantial evidence suggesting that berberine has the potential to limit the development of Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting contributing factors.
These include metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure and increased blood lipids (fats).
There is also compelling research illustrating that berberine may help to reduce amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain.
Plus, it may prevent other risk factors, including the development of plaque build-up in the arteries, free radicle damage and brain inflammation.
3) Take vitamin D
There are multiple vitamin D receptors in the brain, which suggests that vitamin D plays a part in brain function.
The Vitamin D Council state that vitamin D protects the brain and helps to prevent the development of plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that form in Alzheimer’s patients.
Lower vitamin D is linked to poor cognitive function and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. In a cross-sectional study involving 225 older patients with probable AD, those with sufficient vitamin D levels showed better cognition than those with low vitamin D status.
Scientists are still exploring whether vitamin D supplementation can help to prevent dementia and memory loss. However, in the meantime, there’s no harm in taking a daily vitamin D supplement, particularly during autumn and winter.
If you are concerned that your levels are low, get tested by your GP. Otherwise, Public Health England recommends adults and children over the age of one take over 10mcg of vitamin D daily during the winter months.
The Vitamin D Council’s recommendation is higher: it’s 5,000 i.u. daily, or 125 mcg.
4) Eat plenty of oily fish or take a good fish oil supplement
There is a good deal of research attributing consumption of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA to improved brain health (either by eating fish or taking supplements).
Though results from studies centred around dementia and Alzheimer’s are mixed, there is research supporting eating oily fish to prevent or delay cognitive decline, and it has been linked to better cognitive performance in the elderly.
Inflammation is associated with all manner of degenerative diseases, and fish oils have the potential to increase pro-resolution molecules in the brain, effectively reducing inflammation. Consequently, fish oil consumption is associated with lower rates of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In one clinical trial, positive effects were seen in a small group of patients with mild AD after supplementing for six months with 1.7 g DHA and 0.6 g EPA.
So, eating oily fish three times a week could help to lessen your chances of developing dementia – but there are no guarantees. However, seeing as they are essential for overall healthy brain function, what’s the harm in ensuring you get adequate levels of omega-3 fish oils in your diet?
If you’d prefer to take a daily supplement, try our WHC fish oil capsules, which are high in purity and potency and certified by Labdoor as the best of the best.
5) Walking and regular exercise
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, regular physical exercise is one of the best things you can do to decrease the likelihood of dementia.
They state that several studies looking at aerobic exercise in middle-aged and older adults have reported improvements in thinking and memory and reduced dementia risk.
Although more definitive research is needed, data collected from 11 prospective trials have shown a potential 30% risk reduction for dementia and 45% for Alzheimer’s in middle-aged people.
There is also some research supporting the positive effects of exercise in later life when it comes to reducing cognitive decline and avoiding dementia.
Regular exercise in all forms can work wonders when it comes to reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, you may not find it easy to schedule regular exercise into your life, or you may have restrictions as to the type and amount of activity you can do.
Walking can be a fantastic, gentle way to incorporate exercise into your everyday life without having to carve out a chunk of time to crowbar it into your day. It’s also an activity people can do at varying levels of fitness.
Whether you take the stairs instead of the lift, stride out on your lunch break, or walk that extra bus or train stop, you can find ways to move throughout your day. Ideally, you need to increase your heart rate and get a swift pace going, but if that’s too hard initially, take it at your own pace.
A 20-year study shows that walking just five miles a week can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline by helping to maintain greater brain volume.
If you’re healthy and want to reduce your chances of succumbing to Alzheimer’s or dementia, then walking a minimum of six miles per week would be good.
6) Mental stimulation and social interaction
We are social creatures, and scientists have found that limited contact with others is linked to disease and a shorter lifespan, regardless of whether or not you feel lonely.
A study by the University of Southampton, spanning 50 years, involving 9,119 people has also found that socially engaging in community activities is linked with better cognitive function at the age of 50.
So, whether you consider yourself to be particularly sociable or not, or feel that you need company or not, as part of a healthy lifestyle, it’s essential to interact socially.
Mental stimulation such as performing challenging tasks, discussing current events, listening to music, baking, gardening, doing puzzles and playing word games is also linked to improved cognitive function.
Staying mentally active, stimulating your brain through communicative tasks, interaction and organisation can help to prevent the onset of mental decline and Alzheimer’s.
Collected research from the Cochrane Library shows that it may also help to delay the worsening of symptoms for those with mild to moderate dementia.
So if you want to encourage optimal brain health, be sure to socialise, interact, volunteer and get involved with your community.
Stimulate your mind daily, learn new things, challenge yourself, play memory games, and enjoy puzzles and word games. You might even consider learning a new language.
There are no guarantees in life, but it’s good to know your options and follow a few basic principals if you want the best chance for a healthy brain as you age.
Eat a balanced, healthy, real food diet and stay adequately hydrated. Sleep well, manage stress effectively and find the time to do the things you love.
Avoid sugar and eat foods that encourage blood sugar balance such as fibrous vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and include protein with every meal. Eat plenty of healthy fats, especially oily fish.
Make a concerted effort to keep your mind active and consistently try new things. Spend regular time with others and involve yourself in group activities.
Take regular exercise. Walking is excellent and suits people at all levels of fitness. It’s a superb all-round exercise, and as little as five miles a week can be enough to reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Get out in the sunshine as much as possible during summer, and take a daily vitamin D supplement, especially during autumn and winter. Other potentially protective supplements to consider are berberine and fish oils.
This article is written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
If you want to encourage optimal brain health, be sure to socialise, interact, volunteer and get involved with your community.