Can Diet Help Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a condition that makes it difficult to remember people you’ve known for many years and things you learned recently. It’s the result of brain cells dying and the connections between brain cells disappearing.
Currently there’s no cure or way to prevent AD, but you can take steps to delay it or lower your odds of developing AD.
Diet and Brain Health
A healthy diet—especially for your brain—includes foods such as:
- whole grains
- lean sources of protein
While no studies have shown that a specific diet can prevent AD or other types of dementia, a healthy eating plan can provide key nutrients for better brain function. A well-balanced diet can also help you manage your weight, which may delay the onset of AD.
Brain and Obesity
Carrying around a lot of extra weight is bad for your joints, your heart, and other organs. The risk of developing dementia later in life is higher in people who were obese in mid-life, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Neurology. There appears to be a growing body of research linking obesity to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Brain cells require healthy blood flow to supply them with oxygen and nutrients. If your arteries are clogged, blood circulation to the brain may be restricted or blocked altogether. That’s why the Alzheimer's Association warns against a diet with too many foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Those unhealthy foods can contribute the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. As alternatives, consume foods with mono- or polyunsaturated fats like olive oil.
Brain-healthy fats also include omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients, found in salmon, tuna, and several other types of fish, are associated with boosting brain health.
The Alzheimer's Association also recommends walnuts and other foods rich in the antioxidant vitamin E. Good sources of antioxidants include blueberries, strawberries, and oranges.
Older Adult Challenges
Eating a well-balanced diet can become challenging as a person ages. Difficulty with chewing or swallowing can lead to malnutrition.
If consuming the foods you need becomes difficult, consult a doctor about nutritional shakes, vitamins, and other supplements. The Alzheimer's Association suggests vitamins B12, C, and E, and folate for brain health.
Sugar and Sodium
Sugar and salt are common ingredients in many foods that you should reduce in your diet. Too much sodium in the diet of those with hypertension can raise the risk of stroke and other health complications.
Too much refined sugar can contribute to weight gain and higher levels of blood glucose, a risk factor for diabetes. And according to the Mayo Clinic, diabetes raises one’s risk of developing AD.
If Dementia Has Set In
People with AD or other forms of dementia can become easily overwhelmed when faced with too many options. The Alzheimer's Association recommends limiting food choices if you or a loved one is experiencing trouble with memory and decision-making. Simplifying the diet can help reduce stress. Also, a person with early dementia may make poor food choices or forget to eat. That means caregivers need to pay close attention to the diet of those they’re caring for.
Eating a healthy diet is only part of the strategy to delay or prevent AD. Exercise most days of the week is recommended. Regular social interaction is also critical to maintain brainpower.
The Mayo Clinic urges older adults to keep their brains active with puzzles, classes, and other lifelong learning pursuits. And if you smoke, quitting is strongly recommended, as poor circulation and other complications that can affect the brain.
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- Food, Eating and Alzheimer’s. (2013). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved Nov. 12, 2013 from http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-food-eating.asp
- Diabetes and Alzheimer’s. (2013). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved Nov. 12, 2013 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetes-and-alzheimers/AZ00050
- Exploring the Links between Obesity and Alzheimer’s Disease .(June 1, 2006). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from http://www.nia.nih.gov/about/events/2011/exploring-links-between-obesity-and-alzheimers-disease
- Adopt a Brain-Healthy Diet. (2013). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved Nov. 12, 2013 from http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_adopt_a_brain_healthy_diet.asp
- Whitmer, R. A., Gustafson, D. R., Barrett-Connor, E., Haan, M. N., Gunderson, E. P., & Yaffe, K. (2008). Central Obesity And Increased Risk Of Dementia More Than Three Decades Later. Neurology, 71(14), 1057-1064.