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Your Alzheimer's Risk Increases by Doing This, Medical Studies Suggest

Stop before it’s too late.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Alzheimer's disease is now among the top causes of death in the US and emerging as a leading cause of death worldwide. With more people expected to live longer, people can start preventive actions early to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, Ph.D., a professor of public health at New Mexico State University who explains what we know about the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease from recent studies. "Race, age, family history, and genetics are well-researched factors associated with Alzheimer's disease, but these are not modifiable factors," Khubchandani says. He lists a few key modifiable factors that can help you reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or getting the disease at earlier ages. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use

Man Smoking On Bright Sunny Day Outdoor

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) use continue to remain a serious global public health issue. According to Dr. Khubchandani, "the chemicals in ATOD directly influence brain structure and function and higher abuse can lower the age of onset of Alzheimer's disease". He explains that excess and long-term use of ATOD can shrink brain volume, alter signal transmission, and cause behavioral issues that increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease. "People also need to know that ATOD use is associated with heart and lung diseases and these organs are vital for robust brain function and blood supply. Long-term ATOD use, therefore, may also indirectly increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease."


Obesity: Poor Diet and Sedentary Lifestyle

Depressed overweight woman on bed at home

The relationship between obesity and Alzheimer's disease risk has been discussed extensively with a lot of conflicting evidence. "More recently, large scale, and longitudinal studies point out to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease in individuals who gain excess weight early in life."  Khubchandani explains further "the relationship between obesity and risk of Alzheimer's disease also seems plausible given the preventive action of exercise and healthy diet against Alzheimer's disease". WHO guidelines and other rigorous studies suggest that staying fit and participating in regular exercise improve brain function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease or related disorders. Obesity, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyles are related to higher inflammation and insulin resistance in the body; indicators of impending damage to the brain and heart. Also, studies suggest that the longer you stay fit and exercise, the less likely you are to develop Alzheimer's disease.

Diet also plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of both obesity and Alzheimer's disease. "Obesity, diet, exercise, and many diseases are interlinked in multiple ways with direct and indirect mechanisms of action," Khubchandani adds. "Individuals should consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and cut down on salty, sugary, starch, saturated fat-based foods. Studies have now shown that MIND diets are highly beneficial in helping improve brain health and have the required characteristics for a healthy diet. For sustained and healthy brain function, it needs adequate blood supply and nourishment, and actions towards improving diet or increasing exercise today will have a long-lasting and multiplicative beneficial impact on brain health," Khubchandani says.



Health visitor and a senior man during home visit.

Nearly half of the American adults have high blood pressure, but most may not know about it or are not able to control blood pressure. High blood pressure has adverse effects on our body organs and systems. Khubchandani suggests, "especially, for the brain, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels affecting the parts of the brain responsible for thinking and memory."  He adds that the earlier people can get blood pressure checked and get it under control, the lower the probability of Alzheimer's disease. Prolonged high blood pressure can also cause a stroke-like assault on the brain leading to dementia.


High Blood Sugar and Cholesterol

Blood Cholesterol Report Test Healthcare

While the relationship between high cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease is still being researched extensively, Khubchandani says "higher levels of circulating blood cholesterol can directly attack the brain cells or indirectly impact the brain (by accumulating in blood vessels and narrowing them thereby reducing blood flow to the brain)". He adds, "similar damage to the brain is done by high circulating blood sugar or high levels of insulin." Studies suggest that high blood sugar and diabetes are risk factors for heart disease or stroke, both related to Alzheimer's disease. More than a third of American adults have high blood cholesterol and more than a tenth have diabetes which could increase the burden of Alzheimer's disease in the future. Khubchandani warns, "What is not good for the heart, can never be good for the brain."


Depression, Stress, Social Isolation

Unhappy senior woman patient and psychologist

The brain is an organ that needs to be active, healthy, and nourished lifelong for optimum function. "Depression, stress, social isolation can cause structural or functional changes in the brain via multiple mechanisms including psychological or physiological pathways," Khubchandani mentions. MRI and brain scan studies show that depression or loneliness can damage or cause inflammation in the brain, accelerate its aging, or shrink its volume leading to cognitive decline. "It is critical that people manage stress, continue to remain physically and socially active, and avoid boredom or isolation. Such activities can have a long-lasting impact on heart, brain, physical, and mental health," Khubchandani says. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek