Today there is the real possibility that we can reduce our risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease by paying attention to two recent and very divergent findings. The first deals with technology and the second with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
Today there are better imaging machines and better processes which can detect and tract the protein known as amyloid precursor protein which is found in many cells, including brain neurons. It is known that patients with the disease have a buildup of amyloid protein aggregates or plaque in their brain.
Before you get your hopes up too high, keep in mind that the cause of AD is still unknown. In the past, however, only a brain autopsy revealed a definitive AD diagnosis. Today an AD diagnosis can be made using a brain scan while a patient is still alive. The hope is that tracers can be used to assess the extent of the amyloid deposits in patients’ brains years before AD symptoms appear, when the disease may still be preventable or at the least, slowed down. Like most diseases, it is earlier in the course of AD when you can stop the process before the irreversible damage is done.
As a result of this research, several pharmaceutical companies are working on antiamyloid therapies. If they are successful the drugs could be given to those who are at high risk of developing AD if the research shows that is the way to go. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans have AD. As the baby boomer generation gets older, the numbers are going to increase. By 2030 that figure is expected to reach 8 million and 16 million by 2050 in the U.S. alone.
The problem is amyloid plaque in the brain is a necessary condition for an AD diagnosis. However, it is not the only condition. There are other factors which have not been identified and research. The process of early detection of AD is complicated but this is definitely a beginning.
The constant reminder of your mother to eat your vegetables might have been the best advice you received. A recent study from Columbia University points to another possibility of reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) through good nutrition. The study indicated that those following the Mediterranean diet lowered their risk of mental decline. People who combined the Mediterranean diet with regular exercise lowered their risk even more. Everything adds up and makes sense. People who ate well following the Mediterranean diet and stayed most physically active had between a 61 percent to 71 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In other words it is not a matter of eating less and exercising more, but a case of eating well and staying active.
The Mediterranean diet is low in red meat and poultry, high in fruits, nuts, legumes, vegetables and cereals, high in fish, permits low to moderate use of wine, and uses olive oil as its main source of fat. Before you get too excited, keep in mind that the research did not prove that the Mediterranean diet protects a person against Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline. All we know is that this healthy lifestyle runs less risk of developing the disease as well as other diseases. If you think about it this statement makes sense because those not following a Mediterranean lifestyle are more likely to eat more red meat, more cheese burgers, and more processed foods which generally put people at risk of all sorts of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease and even cancer.
Part of the concern about being definitive about the Mediterranean diet and AD is that those who are at least risk probably did not start their healthy lifestyle at age 65. They were more likely following a healthy lifestyle and being physically active for years, maybe even starting in their childhood. For instance there was a recent study that linked accelerated aging to soda and processed foods from phosphate. This was a study done on mice which showed that high levels of phosphate are linked to kidney disease, heart disease and can cause muscle atrophy. Apparently keeping a well balanced level of phosphate in the diet is important for a healthy life and longevity.