Over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s Disease, and the number is rising. The good news is that genetics play only a small part in determining whether you’ll develop the disease, and there are many ways you can protect your brain.
From foods to activities to supplements, here’s 20 ways that you can keep your brain healthy and protect yourself from Alzheimer’s.
Stay physically active
Doing at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five days a week, cuts your risk of Alzheimer’s in half. The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation recommends activities such as walking, jogging and climbing stairs.
It’s also important to add in some weight-bearing exercise, since muscle building increases blood circulation to your brain.
Adding in balance and coordination exercises will help even more, as they’ll help keep you mentally alert and further strengthen your brain.
Eat apples every day.
Apples contain the “memory chemical” acetylcholine, says Dr. Thomas Shea of the University of Massachusetts, who recommends consuming two to three apples a day or 16 ounces of apple juice.
One of the most important ways to protect your brain and memory is to keep learning new things.
Those who regularly give their brains workouts with activities like taking classes, reading books, learning new skills and even going to the theater were found to have 2.6 times lower risks of Alzheimer’s.
It turns out you have a good excuse for that caffeine habit.
According to Jean Carper in the book, “100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss,” one study in Europe found that drinking three to five cups of java a day in your midlife years can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 65% later in life. Theories are that caffeine reduces dementia-causing amyloid in the brain.
Protect your head.
This should be common sense, but the numbers are dramatic.
Alzheimer’s is four times more common in seniors who suffered a head injury early in life, and pro football players develop memory-related diseases 19 times more often than the rest of the population.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Studies have found that overweight people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease, while obese individuals are three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
Get lots of Omega 3s.
Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to have a dramatic effect on halting memory loss. Scientists have discovered that omega-3 fatty acids may slow the growth of two distinct types of brain lesions that are found in Alzheimer’s disease.
Omega 3s can be found in fish such as salmon. Vegetarians can get omega 3s from sources like flax seed, hemp seed and walnuts.
It’s also important to reduce intake of unhealthy Omega 6 fats, which are overly abundant in American diets.
In “2 Ways to Protect the Brain,” the Dr. Weil website says:
“Perhaps no piece of nutritional advice in the year 2007 is more relevant than this one: to reduce your risk of a wide variety of diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, consume more omega-3 fatty acids and fewer omega-six fatty acids,” said Dr. Weil. “A good way to do this: add wild-caught fatty fish such as Alaskan salmon to your diet, and reduce consumption of fried food, which tends to be saturated with omega-6-rich soybean oil.”
Take your vitamins
Some vitamins can really help protect your brain, whether from food sources or supplements. Some of the best include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B12
- Folic acid
Stress can have a profoundly negative effect on the brain, specifically the hypocampus. Chronic stress can deprive the brain of oxygen and hinder the growth of nerve cells.
Experts advise working to reduce stress through deep breathing and relaxing activities such as playing music, practicing yoga, going for walks, prayer and reading for pleasure.
Exercise your brain regularly with hobbies like crossword puzzles, sudukos and brain teasers.
In one startling study published in the Archives of Neurology, researchers reported that:
The elderly participants with the most puzzles and books under their belt had brains comparable to those of the healthy controls who were fifty years younger.
Spice up your life.
Adding turmeric to your regular diet can have a protective effect on your brain.
Some studies have shown that curcumin, found in the curry spice turmeric, suppresses the buildup of beta-amyloid, a main component in the harmful plaques in the Alzheimer’s-afflicted brain.
Maintain a healthy mouth.
Infections such as cold sores and gum disease have been linked to dramatically higher incidences of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Studies have found that infections of all types — such as the flu, Lyme Disease and gastric ulcers — make the brain more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s. Infections of the mouth were found to be especially harmful, though.
Dr. Ruth Itzhaki of the University of Manchester in England estimates the cold-sore herpes simplex virus is linked to 60% of Alzheimer’s cases. The theory is that infections trigger excessive beta amyloid that kills brain cells.
Quit smoking and drinking heavily.
Researchers have found that people who smoke and drink heavily develop Alzheimer’s years earlier than the rest of the population.
Science Daily reports:
Researchers found that people who were heavy drinkers developed Alzheimer’s 4.8 years earlier than those who were not heavy drinkers. Heavy smokers developed the disease 2.3 years sooner than people who were not heavy smokers.
Those who were heavy drinkers and smokers, plus carried the Alzheimer’s gene fared the worst, developing the disease an average of 8.5 years sooner than the rest of the population.
Eat your veggies.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommend eating lots of fruits and vegetables, particularly those with dark skins such as spinach, beets, red bell peppers, onions, eggplants, prunes, blackberries, strawberries, red grapes, oranges, and cherries. Some evidence suggests that green, leafy cruciferous vegetables are especially protective.
Search the web.
UCLA on Alzheimer’s reports:
Google. Doing an online search can stimulate your aging brain even more than reading a book, says UCLA’s Gary Small, who used brain MRIs to prove it. The biggest surprise: Novice Internet surfers, ages 55 to 78, activated key memory and learning centers in the brain after only a week of web surfing for an hour a day.
Avoid chronic illness.
Chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease have all been found to correlate with Alzheimer’s.
A study published in the journal Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders also found that people in their 40s who had mildly elevated cholesterol were at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
Meditation helps in multiple ways when it comes to warding off Alzheimer’s. It’s been found to reduce blood pressure, helps relieve stress, and improves breathing. Studies have found that its benefits extend past that, though.
Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that meditating for 12 minutes a day for two months improved blood flow and thinking in seniors with memory problems. Brain scans have been found to show that people who meditate regularly have less cognitive decline and brain shrinkage (a classic sign of Alzheimer’s) as they age.
Challenge your brain.
Find ways every day to give your brain a workout. Simple ways to do this include keeping a running tally of your bill as you grocery shop and challenging yourself to regularly memorize poetry or proverbs.
Get enough sleep.
It’s imperative to get regular, restful sleep in order to protect your brain from Alzheimer’s. Experts recommend 8 hours per night of undisturbed sleep.
Lack of sleep interferes with the brain’s ability to function properly, along with leaving you irritable and interfering with your body’s ability to regenerate. It’s also linked to many other conditions that adversely affect brain health, such as chronic stress and illness.
Having close friends and staying in contact with family members offers a protective effect against the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center found that strong social networks had a dramatic effect on patients:
The relationship between the amount of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and cognitive performance changed with the size of the social network. As the size of the social network increased, the same amount of pathology had less effect on cognitive test scores. In other words, for persons without much pathology, social network size had little effect on cognition. However, as the amount of pathology increased, the apparent protective effect on cognition also increased. Thus, social network size appears to have offered a protective reserve capacity despite the fact that their brains had the tangles and plaques indicative of Alzheimer’s disease.
They went on to say:
Our findings suggest that social networks are related to something that offers a ‘protective reserve’ capacity that spares them the clinical manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease.