By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
I gave a full-house talk last week on steps you can take now for Alzheimer’s prevention, and wanted to share with all of you the most important take-home points.
We tend to think of Alzheimer’s disease as something that cannot be treated or prevented, but recently there has been more and more research on areas we can target. Interestingly, in the field of Alzheimer’s research, “lifestyle medicine” is proving to be more effective than any drug studied to date. What this means is that by addressing the basics of nutrition, blood sugar regulation, stress, sleep and exercise, we can make a profound impact to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Research on Lifestyle Interventions:
I’ll give an example of a study that is sited very frequently in the research called the “FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) Study.”
This is a double-blind randomized control trial involving 2654 individuals between the age of 60 and 77 years. The group was split into two, with one group receiving standard medical advise, and the test group receiving advice on diet, exercise, cognitive training and vascular risk monitoring. What they found is that the group who made lifestyle changes for only 2 years, had reduced their risk of cognitive decline by 30%, meaning they either improved or maintained cognitive function compared to the control group.
These interventions were quite basic:
- A “healthy Nordic diet”, high in fish, vegetables, fruits and oils
- Regular exercise modified according to health and fitness
- Computerized brain training exercises; and
- Advice on cardiovascular risk reduction – waist: hip ratio, weight and blood pressure.
In addition, a second study was done using a sub-group of the individuals in this study who carried the APOE4 gene, which is strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and they found that these individuals had equally good results with the simple lifestyle interventions.
Why start now?
Alzheimer’s disease has an especially long latency period, meaning that changes in the brain start happening 20 years before memory loss appears. At this point preventative and proactive brain scans are not financially viable, so this means we should all be thinking prevention, ideally starting in the 40’s for best effects. Read more to learn what you can easily start now for your Alzheimer’s prevention program.
10 Steps to Start Now
1. Get Tested
With simple lab testing, we can assess and treat many imbalances associated with Alzheimer’s, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, Homocysteine, CRP, Zinc:Copper ratio, thyroid function, Cortisol levels, fasting glucose and insulin, and more. These markers are easy to track and correct, and can be followed every few years to watch for changes.
If you are noticing changes in cognition, there are several tests available for measuring cognitive changes, such as the MoCA – Montreal Cognitive Assessment test that can be done in the clinic.
Some people may also choose to test for risk factors in their genetics, especially whether they have any copies of the APOE4 gene which is highly associated with Alzheimer’s.
2. Reverse Insulin Resistance
Blood sugar imbalance in particular insulin resistance is so strongly associated Alzheimer’s, that is sometimes named “Type 3 diabetes.” Therefore, one of the most proactive steps you can take now is to test and reverse insulin resistance.
Remember that insulin resistance is reversible, and can be treated mainly with nutrition changes: less carbohydrates, minimal sugars, as well as prioritizing quality sleep and regular exercise.
3. Exercise Daily
Regular exercise is also an extremely important proactive step you can take. Exercise is the best way to increase BDNF (= brain derived neurotrophic factor), also known as ‘miracle grow for the brain’. BDNF causes the brain to make new cells and new pathways. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, with the type of exercise depending on your current fitness – ideally composed of some combination of steady-state cardio, strength training and high-intensity intervals.
4. Practice Time Restricted Eating
Including at least a 12 hour overnight fast, with 3 hours without eating before bedtime, is also recommended to reduce your risk. Fasting is when the brain cleans up denatured proteins, insulin levels come down and BDNF levels increase. Caution with longer duration fasts if you are under 45 years of age, have chronically high stress levels, low body fat or thyroid disorder. In general 12 hours overnight is safe for almost everyone.
5. Increase Your Vegetable Intake
One of the best ways to increase your antioxidants, support optimal blood sugar levels and increase your overall intake of vitamins and minerals is to increase your vegetable intake. Aiming for at least 6 servings daily – leafy greens, colourful vegetables and a small amount of fruit – organic preferred
6. Optimize Your Sleep
Poor sleep quantity and quality are additional risk factors for issues with cognition. If in doubt, get a sleep study to check for sleep apnea or other causes of sleep disturbance.
Aim for 8 hours of sleep each night, practice good sleep hygiene: especially sleeping in a dark, cool room; keeping electronics out of the bedroom; winding down before bed; having a consistent bedtime.
7. Keep Learning
Challenging your brain on a regular basis with ongoing learning is the best way to build neuroplasticity. Even in the presence of significant Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, constant learning will build new pathways and delay the onset of symptoms. Stay tuned for another article about this topic – it is quite exciting to learn strategies to maintain and improve brain function through learning.
8. Manage Your Stress
Ongoing stress amplifies any health issue, and Alzheimer’s disease is no exception. High cortisol levels, which come with prolonged high stress are damaging to the brain.
A daily stress-relieving practice is recommended – meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, a gentle yoga practice, spending time in nature, and also simply building downtime into your week.
9. Reduce Toxin Exposure
Toxins in general are the main cause of one type of Alzheimer’s. We live in a toxic world, but can all take steps to reduce our toxic load. Start with clean air (air purifier), clean food (choose organic),and clean water (water filter).
The step above this is to check your home for mold, which is associated with cognitive and neurological issues in some people, and also to test for heavy metals if you suspect you have had exposure.
10. Treat the Gut
Infection and inflammation in the body often start in the gut, and this is the level we can make a significant difference in lowering inflammation. Steps here include rebalancing the gut microbiome, removing inflammatory foods, and repairing the gut lining.
This is an exciting time, where we have the tools and the ability to stop the current trajectory and prevent Alzheimer’s before it happens in so many cases.
If you’re ready to dive deeper into Alzheimer’s prevention, especially lab testing to check for measurable risk factors, and creating a personalized prevention plan, consider starting the Cognitive Wellness Program.
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