More than 23 million people in the world today have dementia, and Alzheimer’s is by far the most common form of this dreadful neurodegenerative disease. Dementia is not an inevitable part of growing old and the brain does not need to degenerate over the course of a lifetime. But at present the medical profession have no cure for Alzheimer’s – at best the drugs available may delay its onset. So is getting Alzheimer’s a cruel twist of fate? Or are there genuinely steps that we can all take to prevent us falling victim to its cruel clutches?
When someone gets Alzheimer’s, around 70% of the brain cells responsible for memory will have been demolished before any symptoms have appeared – so it is never too early to act.
Firstly, there is no doubt that one way to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s is to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase blood pressure; which in turn does increase the risk of developing dementia. So follow as nutritious a diet as you possibly can. A Mediterranean-style diet is often recommended. This is high in fruits, vegetables, pulses and grains, with moderate consumption of oily fish and dairy, and low in meat, sugar and saturated fat. Most fat in this type of diet comes from olive oil, and you can drink wine – but not to excess and mostly with meals.
A more specific alimentary method gaining in popularity, is to follow a ketogenic diet. In essence this consists of eating a high proportion of fat, some protein, a tiny amount of carbohydrate, and absolutely no sugar. A ketogenic diet means that the brain is forced to use ketones for energy instead of glucose – and some believe this can lead to a dramatic improvement in Alzheimer’s sufferers. Coconut oil is recommended by some scientists as the best means of producing ketones and it is thought that consumption of a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil a day can produce a dramatic improvement in Alzheimer’s sufferers. By following a diet low in carbs you will regulate your blood sugar and blood pressure – as well as the health of your brain.
Lots of studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30%; and for Alzheimer’s specifically, the risk was reduced by 45%. Aerobic exercise in particular has been shown to result in dramatic improvements as compared with gentler forms of keep fit such as stretching and toning. However, another study showed that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease can also be reduced by daily physical tasks such as cooking and washing up!
Many people hope that keeping their brains active will maintain and improve their cognitive capabilities as they get older. The advocates of “brain training” believe the more you challenge your brain the less likely the cells are to disintegrate. Is there any evidence that this works? This is a relatively new area of research, and although brain training can improve some aspects of memory in older people; no studies have conclusively shown that brain training can actually prevent cognitive decline.
Current State of Medical Research
There are no pharmaceutical options available to treat, halt or reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Drugs being created now are made to reduce the amyloid plaques, made from a protein called Amyloid B (AB) that build up on the brain. These are a trademark of the disease. But unfortunately they found that these drugs designed to destroy amyloid plaques have no effect on oligomers. This could explain why experimental Alzheimer’s drugs have failed; they are focused on plaques, not their precursor, oligomers.
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