Ways to Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

November 7, 2014 Updated: November 7, 2014

Many of us as we grow older have lapses in our memory.  Memory for names usually is the first aspect of memory that tends to show a decline. In time, having to retrieve words in general on demand becomes more difficult than when we have the luxury of controlling the flow of the conversation more. How often have we thought to ourselves that Alzheimer’s disease may be down the road.

While genetics can play a role in Alzheimer’s risk, there are many steps that we can take to reduce our chances of actually developing Alzheimer’s.  Aluminum is increasing being implicated as a causative factor and is best avoided by not cooking with aluminum, and avoiding foods and products containing aluminum.  Some of these foods and products include antacids, cake mix, processed cheese, deodorants, baking soda/powder, aluminum foil and cookware, certain cosmetics and lotions, and aluminum cans.

Foods high in folate decrease homocysteine levels in the blood, which when high can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.  Beans and dark green leafy vegetables are the best sources of folate.  Thiamine and Vitamin B12 are needed to produce acetylcholine, an enzyme that helps in laying down memories. Many foods are rich in thiamine, including oatmeal, sunflower seeds, brown rice, asparagus, kale, cauliflower, potatoes, oranges, liver, beef, pork, chicken, and eggs.  Meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy are good sources of Vitamin B12.  Low levels of folate and vitamin B12 are associated with mental decline.  Low levels of vitamin B12 also can result in anemia whose symptoms can mimic Alzheimer’s disease.

Patrick Holford in his book, New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, cites research reporting that eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids at least once a week can reduce Alzheimer’s risk by as much as sixty percent.  Ground flax seeds and pumpkin seeds also are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods high in choline also appear to reduce Alzheimer’s risk.  Egg yolks, wheat germs, peanuts, whole wheat products, salmon, oats, legumes, and avocados are all good sources of choline.

Foods high in anti-oxidants such as fruits and vegetables fight inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been associated with increased Alzheimer’s risk. Low glycemic fruits and vegetables, especially those that are dark green, are good sources of anti-oxidants.  Managing stress also is especially important as we grow older to control cortisol levels as excess cortisol can impair memory and mimic Alzheimer’s symptoms. Exercise, in particular, helps to reduce cortisol levels in the body. 

We also need to be aware that symptoms of depression may appear similar to those in Alzheimer’s disease. Paula Bartholomy, a professor at Hawthorn University, makes several important distinctions between clinical depression and Alzheimer’s.  Depression appears to take an uneven course with more memory complaints and is worse in the morning.  Alzheimer’s symptoms, on the other hand, are more pronounced later in the day as fatigue sets in and usually there is denial of memory loss.  Self-medication also is more common in depression.  In mini-strokes, which can resemble Alzheimer’s symptoms, there is a very sudden change in memory decline followed by some compensation and memory improvement.

It is very helpful to be aware of these distinctions along with some of the ways that nutrition and lifestyle changes can reduce Alzheimer’s risk. We tune up our cars like clockwork and the same should apply to our bodies. While there are no guarantees, making dietary and lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s may help to stave off what some people anticipate is the inevitable.