The #1 Thing You Can Do to Lower Your Dementia Risk
Dementia is a crippling brain disorder that can severely impair your memory, language, ability to think, make judgements and problem-solving to the point that it can majorly impact daily life. Dementia isn't a specific disease, but rather an umbrella term for several diseases with a range of symptoms that affects cognitive functions. It's a common condition and the World Health Organization states, "Currently more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year."
An increase in dementia cases is alarming, especially since there's no cure and Dr. Michael Yassa, neurobiologist and director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine shares why there's an uptick. "Remember that the biggest risk factor is age, and we are an aging population. Advances in medical care have managed to extend our lifespan beyond anything we could have ever imagined a hundred or two hundred years ago. So the prevalence of dementia is increasing because we have more and more people living to an age where the probability of getting dementia is much higher."
While the syndrome mostly affects people over 65, it's not a normal part of aging and younger folks have been known to have dementia as well, though it's not as common. So what causes the condition? According to Mayo Clinic, "Dementia is caused by damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. Depending on the area of the brain that's damaged, dementia can affect people differently and cause different symptoms." And WHO says, "Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally.
Dementia has physical, psychological, social and economic impacts, not only for people living with dementia, but also for their carers, families and society at large."
There's no surefire way to prevent dementia, but there are ways to help lower the risk. "Dementia is not inevitable and not everyone is destined to go down that path." Read on to learn what experts told us about dementia and lifestyle choices that reduce the chance. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
What to Know About Dementia
William Nields, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Grey Matters Precision Brain Centers, Sarasota, FL tells us, "What we know about dementia and the brain constantly changes. Over the past few years, the medical community has focused on new methods for treating cognitive decline. That's why it's important to find a provider who understands the importance of lifestyle choices and who stays current on research and new treatments to help you live a longer, more independent future. It's never too early to start working on your brain health."
There's several different types of dementia and the National Institute on Aging shares the following information.
–Alzheimer's disease, the most common dementia diagnosis among older adults. It is caused by changes in the brain, including abnormal buildups of proteins, known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.
–Frontotemporal dementia, a rare form of dementia that tends to occur in people younger than 60. It is associated with abnormal amounts or forms of the proteins tau and TDP-43.
–Lewy body dementia, a form of dementia caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein, called Lewy bodies.
–Vascular dementia, a form of dementia caused by conditions that damage blood vessels in the brain or interrupt the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
–Mixed dementia, a combination of two or more types of dementia. For example, through autopsy studies involving older adults who had dementia, researchers have identified that many people had a combination of brain changes associated with different forms of dementia."
There Needs to Be a Multi Approach to Treating Dementia
Dr. Nields says, "Dementia is common today because typical medical approaches identify and treat just one symptom, amyloid plaques, and not the underlying causes. We need to be better about looking at everything that impacts dementia. For example, the most important factors with dementia include high blood sugar and insulin resistance,vascular disease, sedentary lifestyle, diet and toxins (which are more and more problems in our modern world). Just think how commonplace these are in our lives today.
We all want a pill to treat dementia, but it takes a multi-factorial approach of medical interventions, lifestyle changes and better management of your overall health. Isn't it strange that we take a multifactorial approach to treating heart disease and diabetes but not brain health? Our brains deserve and demand no less than a comprehensive, lifelong approach to care."
Chronic Inflammation Can Lead to Dementia
Dr. Mahmud Kara, MD Internal Medicine shares, "Chronic inflammation is the root of all evil. Recent studies have found that certain modifiable risk factors (those factors that are within our control) including high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and poor diet, may be also linked to dementia and other cognitive-related diseases. One study recently found that high levels of inflammation are associated with dementia/Alzheimer's specifically and when individuals took action to address inflammation, in this case by increasing physical activity, it helped to reduce the risk of developing these diseases.
Although inflammation is the body's normal immune system response to foreign or harmful substances and it is meant to protect us, overtime if this response is not kept in check, it can cause damage to vital structures like the brain or its cells.
Some symptoms of chronic inflammation include, but are not limited to:
- Digestive upset
- Bloating or abdominal discomfort
On the other hand, if you are suffering from chronic inflammation and poor gut health, it can lead to some of the cognitive symptoms. These include:
- Poor concentration
- Brain fog
- Memory issues
- Low energy
How to Help Get Rid of Inflammation
Dr. Kara says, "When it comes to food, it's really quite simple: filling up on fresh, whole, organic foods that are nutrient-dense is the best option for your health and to reduce chronic inflammation. In the short-term, eating certain foods may cause inflammatory symptoms such as fatigue, digestive upset, swelling, or bloating but overtime excess consumption of certain foods can lead to high cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure which in turn can lead to diseases like type 2 diabetes or other chronic conditions that are often associated with inflammation.
Some of the worst eating habits that may cause inflammation and ultimately age you faster or leave you at a higher risk for diseases later on in life include, but are not limited to:
- Refined carbohydrates: eating refined carbohydrates such as white bread or pastries is one of the largest culprits of inflammation
- "Bad" fats: not all fat is created equal. Foods that are high in trans-fat, like fried food, can lead to inflammation
- Artificial sugar/too much sugar: consuming too much sugar or using artificial sweeteners is another habit to avoid
- Processed foods: many of the foods available on conventional supermarket shelves are loaded with preservatives and chemicals that can contribute to inflammation and toxin buildup
Additionally, one of the best supplements to reduce chronic inflammation is Turmeric. This ancient spice is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
–Turmeric is believed to affect multiple inflammatory pathways including IL-1beta, TNF, PG pathways, and the COX2 pathways.
–Boswellia is another powerful anti-inflammatory agent that may affect several inflammatory pathways in particular the COX2 pathway which is probably why it works so well with Turmeric.
–Ginger has mild anti-inflammatory effects but is a good remedy to take for pain associated with inflammation.
–Goldenseal has been used for centuries as both an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent. Its effects are believed to be from a group of compounds called alkaloids.
These ingredients are helpful and important because chronic inflammation is the root of all evil. I say this because many health issues such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer's, start with inflammation. I believe it's important for everyone to focus on ways to prevent and alleviate inflammation because it can be a problem for how you feel on a day-to-day basis and for your overall well-being."
Dr. Yassa states, "There are a few things we can do to lower our risk for dementia. The first one is physical activity. Exercise can help to prevent or delay the onset of dementia." Dr. Kara adds, "Staying physically active has been a pillar of health for centuries. It helps get your heart pumping, sweat out toxins, burn fat, and build muscle. Extra blood flow to the brain can help keep your mind in peak condition, too. The good news is, you don't have to run marathons to reap the mental benefits of exercise. Even 30 minutes of jogging, cycling, or walking each day can help."
According to Mayo Clinic, "Studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Physical activity is one of the known modifiable risk factors for dementia. Plus, regular exercise helps combat other Alzheimer's disease risk factors, such as depression and obesity.
Exercising several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes may:
- Keep thinking, reasoning and learning skills sharp for healthy individuals
- Improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment
- Delay the start of Alzheimer's for people at risk of developing the disease or slow the progress of the disease
- Increase the size of the part of the brain that's associated with memory formation (hippocampus)
Physical activity seems to help your brain not only by keeping the blood flowing but also by increasing chemicals that protect the brain. Physical activity also tends to counter some of the natural reduction in brain connections that occurs with aging."
Dr. Yassa emphasizes, "Making sure we are getting a good amount of sleep every night is also key. Sleep problems have been linked to increased risk for dementia." The National Institutes on Health, states, "People who slept six hours or less per night in their 50s and 60s were more likely to develop dementia later in life. The findings suggest that inadequate sleep duration could increase dementia risk and emphasize the importance of good sleep habits."
NIH adds, "Changes in sleep patterns are common in people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. They may wake up often during the night and find it hard to get back to sleep. These sleep problems are thought to result from brain changes caused by the disease that affect the sleep-wake cycle. Studies have suggested that sleep patterns earlier in life may contribute to later dementia risk. Both insufficient sleep and sleeping longer than average have been linked to a greater likelihood of developing dementia. However, it has been hard to determine whether these sleep changes contribute to the disease or simply reflect early symptoms."
Diet is Key with Preventing Dementia
Dr. Kara explains, "Research has also demonstrated that those considered "higher risk" for developing dementia or other cognitive-related diseases can modify their diet to reduce their risk. One way to do this is through something called Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) which is a type of omega-3 fat that is often found in certain foods (for example fish oil) and also in supplemental form. Omega-3 fats play an important role in protecting the cells in our brain, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, and strengthening certain cognitive structures.
Research suggests that omega-3 DHA can help reduce risk of dementia/Alzheimer's by helping to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain while also protecting the cell membranes and certain brain structures from damage over time. Overall, some factors may be out of our control when it comes to disease, genetics for example; however, there are certain modifiable risk factors that may contribute to the development of dementia and these lifestyle factors should be strongly considered.
Beyond eating specific foods, it's also important to avoid foods that are loaded with preservatives or chemicals that can cause inflammation (remember inflammation has been connected with cognitive decline). It's also important to include foods in your diet that are full of nutrient-value and help with blood pressure regulation (e.g. leafy greens, berries, seeds, lean meats, etc). Foods that are high in antioxidant value are also essential to include in your diet. These help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation and can be found in dark chocolate, the darker fruits like berries, whole grains, and avocado."