Preserving the mind through lifestyle
Adriana Restagno, ND
Diet and supplements are at the forefront of preventing Alzheimer's disease. Daily exercise may also boost brain function.
An estimated 500,000 Canadians are currently living with dementia, with the majority of cases being attributed to Alzheimer’s disease. Experts estimate that number could rise to more than 1 million in the next 30 years.
While mild forgetfulness is often part of the aging process, symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease include progressive forgetfulness and other cognitive difficulties such as impaired word-finding and reasoning. Scientists believe that underlying brain changes may be occurring as early as a decade before diagnosis, which typically occurs in adults over the age of 60.
Although genetics play an important role in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, researchers agree that lifestyle factors contribute as well. Modifying these risk factors may help keep your brain healthy.
Diet and supplements
The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation suggests diet and supplements as the first pillar of prevention for Alzheimer’s disease. The following supplements in particular show promise; however, consult your health care practitioner prior to starting any new supplements.
Omega-3s have been shown to protect against heart disease, a recognized risk factor for dementia. Further, a recent study found that elderly people with high blood levels of vitamins and omega-3s have less brain shrinkage and better mental performance.
Bacopa monnieri is an Ayurvedic herb with memory-, learning-, and concentration-enhancing effects. Bacopa also works by boosting acetylcholine, a critical neurotransmitter involved in memory formation.
Ginkgo biloba has been widely used in herbal medicine to treat circulatory disorders and enhance memory. Some studies have shown an improvement in cognitive function with the use of a ginkgo extract, while others have reported conflicting results. Avoid ginkgo if you are taking blood-thinning medications.
Phosphatidylserine and choline are vital phospholipids, fat molecules necessary to keep the membranes of brain cells fluid and functioning optimally.
B vitamins are critical to many enzymatic reactions involved in memory formation. In particular, vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid are important in reducing homocysteine, an inflammatory marker that may contribute to increased risk of dementia.
Daily physical activity promotes the release of endorphins and norepinephrine, important mood-enhancing molecules. These mood-boosters are especially helpful in seniors, as depression among the elderly has been linked to an increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition, exercise may boost brain function. A recent study showed that walking for one hour, three times per week increased brain volume in an area involved in memory formation.
Genetics may not always be on our side, but simple lifestyle changes may offer great cognitive support in our later years.