Alzheimer’s. The mere mention of the word sends shivers down our collective spines. Millions have been touched by it, having witnessed the devastation up close with loved ones who’ve been diagnosed. It is, as we all know, a grim picture, so it’s imperative that each one of us does everything possible to avoid the disease.
While we don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s, there is mounting evidence that suggests the changes you make now can have a considerable impact on what happens to your brain decades from now. The current thinking is that we may be able to significantly slow or even stop the progression of Alzheimer’s by adopting as many brain-supportive habits as early in life as possible. Here are the big ones to help keep your brain in top form for as long as possible:
1) Tame inflammation, ’round the clock
Chronic inflammation is often the starting point for diseases that these days are tragically becoming endemic, such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Fortunately, inflammation can be tamed, by trading sugars, industrial oils, processed foods, and factory-farmed meats for wholesome, fresh, consciously-raised, real foods and by maintaining the bacterial balance of the gut microbiome. To get on a more brain-supportive path, start with a 2 or 3 week cleanse to fortify and repair your gut, and add in the brain-loving foods listed below.
2) More movement, and a lot less couch-potato time
Simply put, moving your butt is good for your brain. Frequent movement helps improve memory and slows the rate of cognitive decline. Movement also increases blood flow to the brain, key for the health of the organ. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, regular exercise cuts the risk of developing the disease by half, so keep moving. If you’re a desk jockey, work more movement into your day by setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to get out of your chair and do a lap or two around the office every 30 minutes or so. When time’s too short for a 30 or 45 minute exercise session, embrace the idea of the ‘micro session,’ as in, do any kind of movement for ten minutes at least once or twice a day. Ten minutes of movement – that’s about 3 songs worth on the I-phone – done several times in a day can keep the blood pumping to everywhere you want it to go.
3) Make quality sleep a top priority
Sleep, as well as its deeply refreshing counterpart, meditation, is not a luxury; it is an absolutely essential act of daily maintenance, and it’s your ally in keeping your brain sharp and youthful. So, next time you plan to cut sleep corners, consider this: sleep may be pivotal in avoiding early mental decline. When you sleep, your brain protects itself from toxic proteins. Its glymphatic system flushes cerebrospinal fluid through the brain to remove proteins that accumulate between the cells, byproducts of neurological processes during the day. This “overnight cleanup” keeps the brain clear and healthy, but this brain-cleaning crew only works when you’re asleep. If you don’t let them do their work, it’s like having a party one night and neglecting to clean up the mess the next day, and then having another party. These waste products begin to accumulate, the house starts to deteriorate. Science is now linking this toxic buildup with loss of neurological function. Over time, this “trash buildup” of proteins in the brain can contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s – so never underestimate the power of a good snooze! Be sure to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
4) What goes in your mouth matters to your brain
Not paying all that much attention to your diet? Well, snap out of it! The recommended, wholesome foods below will help protect your brain by tamping down the cell-damaging inflammation that’s considered a key contributor to the development of Alzheimer’s. They’ll also support the efforts of brain-protective glial cells which are thought to be responsible for pushing toxins out of the brain. So when you make your food choices throughout the day, think about feeding your head with the best brain foods possible, preferably organic leafy greens, colorful veggies, dark berries; nuts; healthy fats; and moderate amounts of organic, grass-fed or pasture-raised animals. Drink oolong or green teas and ditch sugar, processed foods, and industrial oils. Also, limit the amount of alcohol and, of course, cigarettes. They all can damage brain cells, in some cases, causing permanent brain changes, and, of course, boost Alzheimer’s risk.
5) Ditch sugar – and the Standard American Diet – today
As I often say, sugar is the devil because of it’s health-destructive properties. And now, there’s yet one more reason to condemn the stuff – in addition to setting you up for obesity and type 2 diabetes, sugar may be destroying your brain cells. In fact, many scientists have taken to calling Alzheimer’s the diabetes of the brain, or ‘diabetes 3,’ thereby making avoidance of all that sugar, simple carbs and processed foods endemic to the standard American diet of the utmost priority, that is, if you want to keep your brain healthy.
6) Get rid of the non-stick
Cook using non-reactive materials like ceramic, enamel-coated cast iron, glass or silicone, instead of aluminum or non-stick cookware. Aluminum and non-stick have been tied to possible long-term health problems, including Alzheimer’s, so steer clear. If, however you’ve got a kitchen full of non-stick, over time, replace your old stuff with healthier alternatives.
7) Change your eating patterns
In recent months, chances are, you’ve heard about intermittent fasting – aka the 5:2 Diet or 8-Hour Window diet – as a trendy ‘diet’ that’s making the news. But what you probably haven’t heard is that it’s showing some promise as a preventive tool to combat diseases of modern civilization like heart disease, stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. The theory is that the diet, in effect, re-sets the system and can help normalize blood glucose, blood pressure, and liver function, all of which in turn, protects brain health.
8) Take brain boosters
In addition to eating a clean, plant-rich diet, I also recommend a few key supplements to help fill in nutritional gaps and strengthen the body’s ability to ward off neurological decline. Among my favorite brain-supporters:
Omega 3 fatty acids
Methylated Folate and Vitamin B12
Alpha Lipoic Acid
To establish the appropriate levels for your needs, work with an integrative practitioner to develop a supplementation plan, and be sure to factor in any prescription med you may be taking — some commonly prescribed drugs, such as statins, can drain the body of key nutrients. For those already suffering from cognitive decline, consider including additional supplements such as acetyl-L-carnitine, phosphatidylserine and ginko biloba to help improve brain function and slow the slide.
9) Meditate, meditate, meditate
One of the simplest things you can do to support brain health every day? Meditate, to give the brain the downtime it needs to relax, restore and refresh itself. Too much unrelieved stress contributes to brain shrinkage in the area responsible for memory, so it’s imperative to counteract it with meditation. Get your meditation practice flowing and start preserving that all-important grey matter volume.
10) Don’t hibernate – circulate!
One final thought – be social and stay connected with friends, family, neighbors and community. Those who remain socially active and connected with others have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s – so get out there!