9 Strategies to Reduce Your Alzheimer's Risk - A Holistic Perspective
Updated: Feb 27, 2019
More than 5.7 million Americans and their families are “living” with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of Dementia. As incredible as that is, the number of people with Alzheimer’s is expected to double or triple in the next 30 years. At this rate, this epidemic not only threatens us personally it promises to financially bankrupt families and all Western health care systems. Clearly our approach to this disease needs some fresh thinking.
The long-standing certainty that Alzheimer’s and other Dementias cannot be cured, slowed, or even prevented has stood the test of time. This bleak message advanced by the Alzheimer’s Association and other professional associations leaves us with no options but to await our fate and just hope that we are one of the lucky ones who gets to keep our memories and autonomy. It leaves us hoping that by the time we get there a miracle cure will have been found.
If you think about it, we’ve heard similar messages to this before. Not long ago we believed the “truth” that heart disease and diabetes could not be reversed. The good news is that we are recovering from this misunderstanding. Holistic health professionals are proving daily that patients can reduce their blood sugar, optimize their cholesterol, reverse their heart disease, and even reduce or eliminate their medications. Newfound hope is continuing to rise for those willing to open their minds to this more optimistic, proactive paradigm in medicine.
As a Naturopathic physician I see Alzheimer’s as a problem with the whole body, not just the brain. In other words, anything that affects the health of the body will also affect the health of the brain. And, like all chronic disease we know that Dementias start long before symptoms are seen, usually decades. Therefore, a little logic says if we are going to save ourselves and our health care system from the devastations of this disease we should start preventing it as early in life as we can. In that spirit, here are some of the major ways to reduce the risk and potentially even slow or reverse to the development of dementia and other chronic illnesses:
Be Socially Engaged
Evolution shaped us to require social interaction as much as food for good health. Having quality interpersonal relationships is one of the most important ways to keep your brain healthy. One reason is that conversation can be a mental workout that can help to maintain memory because it requires multiple mental skills including attention, listening, reasoning, language, and memory.
Manage High Blood Pressure
People with High Blood Pressure (HBP) in their 40s-60s consistently have late-life cognitive decline, or a reduction in memory, judgment, and reasoning. HBP is particularly damaging because of the negative effect it can have on the brain and particularly the hippocampus, an area of the brain crucial for memory.
Manage your Blood Sugar
High blood sugar leads to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, Diabetes, and cholesterol issues, which are all major risk factors for Dementia not to mention the vast majority of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Reducing sugar, sweets, pastas, and breads in your diet can help.
Have a Thyroid Deep-Dive
Untreated low thyroid function can have a grave impact on your brain health over time, not to mention your quality of life. Unfortunately, using old testing guidelines many doctors will fail to diagnose this problem. If you’re feeling unreasonably tired, are gaining weight, have dry hair and skin, are prone to constipation, and/or have brain fog ask your doctor to take a more detailed look.
Cortisol is a hormone that increases when you experience stress. When chronically high it has been shown to decrease executive function (your ability to plan, reason, and problem solve), not to mention increase belly fat. Counseling, exercise, meditation, mindfulness practices, and Acupuncture can all help relieve stress and lower your cortisol.
Get Adequate Sleep
The overall purposes of sleep are still a mystery, but we know that the body uses this time for repair and memory consolidation. Not sleeping enough and/or having chronically disturbed sleep will impair your memory storage over the long term.
Eat a Nutritious Diet
Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, and B Vitamins are important for your overall and brain health. They help manage inflammation, detoxify chemicals, and increase our ability to fight infections.
Move Your Body
It’s not news that movement and exercise are necessary for your physical and emotional well-being. Enjoyable movement that requires new learning, like dancing, can add an extra boost for the brain.
Understand Your Genetic Risk
Multiple genes are known to have an impact on brain health. They can be tested for and their effects mitigated through more aggressive lifestyle and preventative treatment. For instance, ApoE4 is a gene that is known not only for its detrimental effect on heart health, but also for its effect on the brain as well.
It’s very unlikely that any one of the risk factors above can cause Alzheimer’s or other dementias on their own. It’s much more likely that a combination of multiple risk factors, including those not listed like depression, toxic exposures, smoking, excessive drinking, chronic infections and medications can all come together to produce cognitive decline. If you want to be proactive start with the basics: eat a whole foods diet, move your body, reduce stress, and pursue hobbies and activities that bring you joy. If you struggle with any of the above or have a family history of Alzheimer’s that you’d like to avoid a Functional or Naturopathic doctor can help.
For more information see previous posts:
5. Vitamin B12
This post was slightly edited from the originally published post in the publication "We Love Ann Arbor".