Could Lifestyle Modifications be the Key to Treating Alzheimer’s?
January 3, 2019
If there’s one disease no one wants to get, it’s Alzheimer’s. The slow decline into forgetfulness is a journey no one wants to embark upon. But being the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and with diagnoses only continuing to rise, our concerns may be justified.
With research continuing to uncover more and more complexities associated with Alzheimer’s, experts are starting to look at the disease in a new light. Some scientists are beginning to question if the standard protocols for treating Alzheimer’s are in fact the best possible course of treatment.
A recent article in Discover Magazine has helped bring to light the importance of lifestyle factors in maintaining brain health, and their possible connection to treating Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, which is a term used to describe certain types of mental decline involving memory loss and other cognitive functions. Where dementia, in general, can progress very gradually, Alzheimer’s progresses at a more rapid rate.
Alzheimer’s is thought to be linked to the presence of amyloid plaques in the brain – sticky proteins that collect in the brain, interfering with the way messages are sent and interpreted.
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
Due to the complexity of this disease, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact cause. Experts believe Alzheimer’s is the result of multiple factors. Age, genetics, lifestyle, environment, and coexisting conditions are all thought to play a role in the development of the disease.
Alzheimer’s Treatment and Risk Factors
Historically, the treatment for this complicated disease involved focusing on managing the development of amyloid plaques in the brain through medication. While this regimen has helped some patients hold onto parts of their life for longer than without medication, experts in the field are beginning to think that too much emphasis has been placed on treating these plaques without considering other factors.
In fact, plaques have been found in the brains of people who haven’t shown symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but these findings have been generally ignored for the past decade or so. Researchers are starting to believe that we’ve overlooked other equally important risk factors, such as exercise, social engagement, and the management of coexisting conditions, like heart disease.
Many studies have linked exercise to reduced cognitive impairment, but one pilot study, in particular, looked at how exercise affected individuals with already having mild cognitive impairment. They found that after six months of regular high-intensity aerobic exercise, there was an increase in blood flow to critical parts of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s. Participants’ ability to plan and organize improved and they even saw a reduction in tau tangles, another Alzheimer’s marker. Although the findings in this study are preliminary, experts say these outcomes are better than that of any Alzheimer’s drug.
Furthermore, other studies have linked Alzheimer’s to a slew of modifiable risk factors including obesity, smoking, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, lack of education, among others. The findings estimate that improving these areas could prevent more than a third of dementia cases worldwide.
Ways to Improve Brain Health
There are lifestyle modifications you can begin to make now that may improve your brain health and help slow cognitive decline. Here are just a few:
Plant-based foods — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
Low-carb — no white rice or white bread
Healthy fats — like olive oil, instead of margarine or butter
Herbs and spices — instead of salt to flavor food
High protein — lean meats, like salmon and poultry, 3 or 4 times per week
Low red meat — no more than a few times per monthExperts are still unsure as to what it is exactly about the Mediterranean diet that is responsible for its positive effects. It could be that this style of eating helps keep blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol low. When too high, these three factors are linked to an increased risk of dementia.
Exercise to Improve Brain Health Increasing your heart rate causes an increase in blood flow to your brain. This can help improve memory, attention, mood, and sleep. In fact, one study examined exercise and brain health and showed that the hippocampus grew larger in individuals who took up consistent, regular exercise, such as frequent, brisk walking.
Exercises like yoga are also a great way to work out your body and your mind at the same time. The breath-focused and meditative qualities of yoga have been shown to help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is thought to be harmful to the brain.
Challenge Yourself Studies have shown that certain activities can help the brain produce new cells and aid in mental dexterity. This extra cell production can increase the plasticity of the brain and help offset future cell loss. There are many ways to try challenging your brain at home. Try:
Taking a new route home
Brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand
Taking a class (foreign language, gardening, dance, etc.)
If you feel like you may already struggle with depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, make it a priority to seek help. Some studies have found links between mental health and brain health, so it’s important to make your mental health a priority too.
While no one wants to experience cognitive decline of any kind, this recent research provides us with the hope that positive lifestyle modifications may be a viable way to prevent cognitive decline before it starts and slow progression if it’s already started.
If you’d like to learn more about how Neurocore may be able to help strengthen your brain, give us a call at 800.600.4096.
American Academy of Neurology (AAN). (2017, January 4). Mediterranean diet may have lasting effects on brain health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170104174210.htm
Godman, Heidi. (2015, October 29). “Challenge your mind and body to sharpen your thinking skills.” Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/challenge-your-mind-and-body-to-sharpen-your-thinking-skills-201510298507
Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, January 16). “12 ways to keep your brain young.” Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young
Marsa, Linda. (2018, December). “Alzheimer’s Under Attack.” Discover, pp 32-41.
“What Is Alzheimer’s?” Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers.
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