Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that afflicts one in ten Americans aged 65 years and older. It is the most common form of dementia that manifests as difficulty in cognition, memory, and reasoning. Since 1989, the number of deaths from the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease has risen eight-nine percent and it has become the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. (1) There is no known cure. Make no mistake: Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
More on Alzheimer’s
Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s and similar diseases aren’t “common illnesses”.
They occur when abnormal protein deposits form in the brain, hampering inter-cellular communication and causing neuronal death. As cells die, the brain shrinks and proper functioning becomes impossible. (2)
The cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown.
Why certain proteins begin to accumulate on the brain hasn’t been determined. Once plaque begins to form, its affects on the brain worsen over time. (3)
Risk factors include(4):
- Older age
- Down’s syndrome
- chronically high LDL cholesterol
- cardiovascular disease and hypertension
- head injury
- smoking cigarettes
While there is no one cause, there are ways to decrease risk and alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) through lifestyle and diet.
See also: preventing Alzheimer’s
10 Foods to Prevent Alzheimer’s
Here’s what you need to eat to keep your brain in optimal shape.
Beans, beans, they’re good for the heart—and the brain! Researchers at Rush University suggest eating beans at least three times a week to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Beans’ nutritional profile of high fiber and protein help to slow cognitive decline and even reduce its incidence. (5, 6)
The pigment in blueberriesʹ skin contains anti-inflammatory antioxidants (primarily anthocyanin and gallic acid). Rich also in vitamins C and K, blueberries have been shown to improve memory by signalling brain neurons in the areas of the brain related to memory storage.
In addition, gallic acid reduces neural damage and improves cognitive function by reducing oxidative stress. (7) Furthermore, anthocyanin regulates blood glucose, with implications for diabetes (a risk factor for AD) and alleviates depression. (8)
Other berries and dark-skinned fruits (like plums) contain the same and other antioxidants as well.
There are many antioxidants in raw cocoa, one of which is resveratrol, which is also found in black tea, raspberries, and dark grapes. A contributing factor to neurodegeneration is inflammation in the brain that weakens the blood-brain barrier.
Resveratrol in cocoa improves circulation and is anti-inflammatory. It seems to regulate the brain’s immune response from outside the brain by fortifying the blood-brain barrier, preventing damaging proteins from infiltrating the brain. (9)
If you regularly drink coffee, you might consider making it a healthy mocha (using raw cocoa, sans all the sugar in a chocolate syrup) for added benefit.
4. Coconut Oil
A healthy medium-chain fatty acid that your brain just loves! Glucose is the brain’s primary fuel source. AD, however, affects the brain’s ability to use glucose.
Your body creates ketones as it burns fat for energy. It’s your brain’s second favorite food. By virtue of its chemical make-up, ingestion of coconut oil facilitates ketone production.
The brain can then immediately use the energy provided by ketones, immediately improving cognitive function and memory—within ninety minutes, in one study. (10)
5. Fatty Fish
Sardines, wild salmon, halibut, mackerel, and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fat that’s essential for brain health, as it makes up ninety-seven percent of the brain’s fat.
One of the consequences of neurodegenerative diseases like AD is the brain’s increasing difficulty in maintaining adequate fat content.
6. Leafy Greens
Vegetables such as spinach, kale, mustard greens, chard, and collards are loaded with nutrition: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other brain-supporting phytochemicals.
Of special note is their richness in vitamin K: “green leafy vegetables and other foods rich in vitamin K, [antioxidants] lutein and beta-carotene can help to keep the brain healthy to preserve functioning.” (11)
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts are also associated with lower rates of cognitive decline. (12) Eat at least two servings a week; six or more servings a week of these vegetables are even better.
Nuts of all kinds contain healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, and protein that promote brain health. The four top-rated nuts for brain health:
Walnuts – they kind of look like brains, don’t they? These convoluted brain nuts contain high amounts of DHA and have been shown to prevent or ameliorate cognitive decline and improve cognitive performance. (13)
Almonds and hazelnuts (filberts) – these contain great stores of vitamin E. Most people don’t get enough of this vitamin in their diets. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found a distinct correlation between high plasma levels of vitamin E and a decreased risk for AD. (14)
Peanuts – these nuts are loaded with niacin (vitamin B3) and research has found a link between niacin deficiency and higher incidence of mental confusion, cognitive decline, and dementia. The larger the dietary intake of niacin, the lower the risk of AD and age-related cognitive decline. Additionally, niacin is instrumental in regulating cholesterol, a significant factor in the risk for AD. (15)
Eat a handful of the nuts of your choice at least five times a week.
8. Olive Oil
This substance promotes the production of certain proteins and enzymes that helps break down brain plaque found with Alzheimer’s. (17)
9. Red Wine
Resveratrol is the dark antioxidant pigment that makes grapes red. The largest clinical trial of the effect of resveratrol on people with mild to moderate AD found progression of the disease stalled with long-term resveratrol supplementation.
The mechanism by which this occurs is thought to be resveratrolʻs activation of a protein called sirtuin, which has an inverse relationship with MMP-9, one of the markers of a weakened blood-brain barrier. (18, 19)
10. Whole Grains
Whole grains include the outer germ and bran, which are rich in fiber. Fiber is important for helping the body rid itself of toxins and other waste. The outer layers of the grains contain antioxidants and other nutrients as well.
Organic whole wheat, buckwheat, millet, oats, barley, quinoa, amaranth, and bulgur are all recommended for an AD diet. Combining whole grain with a fruit or vegetable creates a synergy that brings out the best in both. (20)