By and large, Alzheimer’s is a vascular disease. By and large, the practices that prevent cardiovascular disease -- eating well, being active, avoiding tobacco -- slash the risk of Alzheimer’s. Studies that have shown an elimination of up to 80% of all chronic disease with the application of lifestyle as medicine have not carved out an exception for Alzheimer’s. The evidence that we can alter gene expression with the power of lifestyle almost certainly pertains to Alzheimer’s as it does to cancer. By minding our bodies, we can mind our minds, too. We can best mind both by minding the short list of what matters most to health.
So, see a doctor regularly to have your blood pressure and cholesterol monitored. High cholesterol can contribute to dementia by accelerating the development of atherosclerosis; controlling blood lipid levels with diet or medication can protect against this. High blood pressure can damage the blood supply to the brain in several ways and is the leading risk factor for stroke. At least one European study suggests that treatment of high blood pressure all by itself can cut dementia risk in half.
There is some evidence to support what most of us have heard about “brain foods.” Fish consumption appears to protect brain function, most likely by contributing omega-3 fatty acids to the diet. An omega-3 oil supplement, 1 to 2 grams daily, is an alternative. Antioxidants in food appear to be protective as well, contributing to the reputations of blueberries, red wine, and green tea.
The evidence is much stronger for the importance of the overall dietary pattern. Eating well is as important to the brain as it is to the heart. Lower your risk of Alzheimer’s with plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils, olives and avocado, nuts and seeds. Limit consumption of highly processed foods, fast foods, sugar, salt, saturated and trans fat. Physical activity, too, nurtures the health of body and mind alike. Finally, population studies suggest that those who exercise their brains protect their minds from dementia. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku are aerobics for your brain.
There is no question we need the government and big pharma and the biomedical community at large to wage the battle of treatment on our behalf. But prevention is the greater prize and is largely already within our grasp. Mind your mind and mind your body with the zeal and diligence you routinely apply to minding your own business. Because they are.