How can I prevent Alzheimer's disease?

Treating high blood pressure may help prevent Alzheimer's disease. A study, which included 3,300 people over age 65, found that those taking any blood pressure medication had a 36% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than those who took none. The greatest risk reduction was in people who were taking diuretics. A more recent study in BMJ linked a class of hypertension drugs called angiotensin-receptor blockers with a significant decrease in the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia; the effect was seen mostly among men.

Control of blood pressure, control of blood cholesterol, control of body weight, control of blood sugar, and regular exercise of 30 minutes in duration, at least 3 times each week, form the basis for the best known strategies for delaying or preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

A new study shows that regular exercise may offer some protection against Alzheimer’s. Two studies on people in three states measured the effects of exercise on brain function over five years. Eric Larson, and Executive Director of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle stated, “It’s very likely that regular physical activity improves the ability for blood to circulate to the brain and oxygen to get to the brain. If you have healthy blood vessels, you’re very likely to be able to withstand the stress on very sensitive parts of the brain like the hippocampus.” He suggests people exercise regularly. “Even people who are demented can benefit by regular exercise.”

The studies, in Archives of Internal Medicine, were supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Zaldy S. Tan, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

It is hard to define preventive measures for Alzheimer’s disease because we still do not know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s. Researchers continue to search for the precise causes of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In addition, because Alzheimer’s is a disease that progresses slowly, even if researchers did find a preventive measure, it would take years (if not decades) to prove its effectiveness.

However, doctors have identified certain factors that may be helpful in preventing dementia. While we cannot say definitively that these measures will prevent Alzheimer’s, they have other proven benefits for heart health and general well-being.

These preventive measures include:

  • Regular physical exercise
  • Engaging in mental and leisure activities
  • Maintaining heart health (monitoring blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol)
  • Not smoking
  • Avoiding head trauma
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
Dr. Randolph P. Martin, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

I visited with Dr. Robert Gilbert, a neurologist at Piedmont Hospital, to discuss this debilitating disease. According to Dr. Gilbert, Alzheimer’s is an increasingly recognized disease because of the aging population; therefore we’ll see more and more cases. Currently there isn’t a set diagnostic test to determine Alzheimer’s, but most doctors use MRI testing to see if there are markers that indicate a possible diagnosis. Dr. Gilbert states, “Unfortunately, by the time you see changes of atrophy in the temporal lobe (via MRI) the patient already has signs, so it’s helpful to exclude other causes.” If a patient has signs of memory loss, Dr. Gilbert says he usually sends them for further neurological testing to look at possible causes.
Dr. Gilbert says, “There are certain things one can do to reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s, but we know there are genetic links—that’s something we can test, to some degree, but it’s not valid clinically yet.”

Alluding to a study out recently, Dr. Gilbert explains seven things people can do in their everyday activities to significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The most important is increasing physical activity. The study also found depression, obesity and diabetes all increase the risk.

Keeping the mind active also lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Gilbert says, “We’ve known for a long time that higher functioning, smarter patients—ones that have gone through higher levels of education or stayed mentally active—seem to not have as much presentation with Alzheimer’s.”

Dr. Gilbert says that data shows that patients can reduce or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by 10-20% with lifestyle changes. He says there is a link between lifestyle habits and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but no one knows the true cause of the disease yet.

Judith London, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

At the present time, Alzheimer's cannot be prevented but there are things one can do to reduce the risk or delay the onset.

  • Aerobic exercise is the most effective way to reduce risk, increase brain volume and improve memory functioning. Walking 30 minutes/day, 5 days a week can do this.
  • Eat nutritiously including lots of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, low fat dairy, low fat meat, plenty of salmon and fish.
  • Keep on socializing.
  • Learn something new to stimulate those baby brain cells that are born every day.
  • Take care of your teeth to minimize inflammation.
  • Protect your head from injury.
  • Lower stress.
  • Improve sleep.
  • Have fun!
Dr. Rudy Tanzi, PhD

Researchers believe that Alzheimer's disease occurs as the result of a genetic predisposition combined with environmental factors. In this video, Dr. Rudy Tanzi shares his views on how it can be prevented.

Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine Specialist
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.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)
Ping pong has the potential to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Learn more about this topic in this video with Dr. Oz.

Dr. David A. Merrill, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)
There is no one strategy that can guarantee the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. However, healthy lifestyle behaviors may confer a slowing of the progression of memory loss, which could actually prevent you from developing full-blown symptoms or symptoms that are very severe.

So far, evidence supports at least two healthy lifestyle factors for reducing your risk for dementia. Those factors are exercise and the adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet. With exercise, you want to try adhere to the American Heart Association guidelines, which recommend a total of 30 minutes, five days a week or more (150 minutes a week) of moderate-intensity activity or aerobic activity that gets your heart pumping and your blood circulating. You should also add 2 days a week or more of strength training.

The cause of Alzheimer's disease is unknown, so there are no proven prevention guidelines to follow at this time. Researchers are working to define risk factors for the disease and studying substances that have the potential to reduce the risk. One recent new study, for example, suggests that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The finding appears to confirm that inflammation plays a role in the disease. Further study is needed to identify whether any of these medications can safely prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.

Try these things to help delay or prevent Alzheimer's disease:

  • Exercise regularly. It increases the flow of blood and oxygen to brain cells.
  • Eat well. Fill your diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limit sugar and saturated fats. The Alzheimer's Association reports that both the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean diets have been studied and "may be beneficial." And docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a type of essential omega-3 fatty acid that plays a role in brain health and may help ward off Alzheimer's. Cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, trout and sardines contain these fats.
  • Stay socially active. Being around other people can strengthen connections between the brain's nerve cells.
  • Stay mentally stimulated. Research finds that an active brain may build its reserves of brain cells and connections and may even generate new brain cells. Playing games, taking courses, reading, writing and doing crossword puzzles all help keep your brain churning.
  • Protect your brain. Because serious head trauma appears to increase the risk of Alzheimer's, always wear a seat belt, protect yourself against falls when possible and wear protective head gear when participating in sports or riding a bicycle.
  • Be kind to your heart. Studies show that some medical conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (like diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure) may also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's. That's where physical exercise and diet play a big role.
  • Get enough sleep. Although it is known that people with Alzheimer's disease suffer from poor sleep, researchers are studying the opposite -- if sleep loss can lead to the development of Alzheimer's.

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You can't prevent Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is actually a disease of the brain that involves a "tangling" of the nerves in the brain. There is no known cause. You can see these changes on pathologic slides of brain tissue of those who have died who had Alzheimer's. There does seem to be a family tendency for the disease, but just because someone has Alzheimer's in your family does not mean there is much of a risk that you will get it. There have been some associations, like longstanding hypertension and even aluminum exposure, that may have something to do with Alzheimer's, but nothing has been proved yet. Aerobic exercise and mental exercises have been shown to make a person cope with Alzheimer's better.

Dr. Gayatri Devi, MD

The best way to prevent Alzheimer's is to have a healthy lifestyle; exercise, a heart-healthy diet, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol down. Watch as neurologist Gayatri Devi, MD, discusses ways you can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's disease is a devastating degenerative condition. In this video, Dr. Robin Miller reveals what over-the-counter medication can stave off Alzheimer's.

Dr. Joseph M. Mercola, DO
Family Practitioner

NOW is the time to start taking action to preserve your brain function. I believe my detailed guide below will offer you a comprehensive strategy.

  • Optimize your vitamin D levels through safe sun exposure, a safe tanning bed and/or vitamin D supplements.
  • Eat a nutritious diet with plenty of raw fresh vegetables based on your nutritional type, and pay special attention to avoiding sugar.
  • Eat plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats in the form of krill oil. Fifty percent of your brain is an omega-3 fat called DHA. My favorite source of this is krill oil because it is so highly absorbed you need far less of it than fish oil. Additionally, it is loaded with beneficial antioxidants and is clearly the most sustainable source of animal-based omega-3 on the planet.
  • Avoid toxins, especially mercury, aluminum and fluoride. Dental amalgam fillings are one of the major sources of mercury, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a qualified biological dentist to have your amalgams removed.

Fluoride, meanwhile, is another powerful neurotoxin. The most common sources would be in your water and toothpaste.

  • Keep fasting insulin levels below three. There is no question that insulin resistance is one of the most pervasive influences on brain damage, as it contributes massively to inflammation, which will prematurely degenerate your brain.
  • Exercise regularly. According to one study, the odds of developing Alzheimer's were nearly quadrupled in people who were less active during their leisure time, between the ages of 20 and 60, compared with their peers.
  • Eliminate all processed foods and sugars. 95% of the food we eat is processed. We need to get back to regularly preparing our food at home to preserve the natural nutrition that is in the food to begin with and to help us eat more raw foods.
  • Challenge your mind daily. Mental stimulation, such as traveling, learning to play an instrument or doing crossword puzzles, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.