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Alzheimer’s Disease and Nutrition – A Possible Link?

By Sheryl Kraft

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Make sure to tune in to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Together for Care telethon, airing December 4.

As recently as 2008, when a director of the Healthy Aging Program at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention sought to establish the public’s perceptions about cognitive health and Alzheimer’s, she found most adults to be aware of Alzheimer’s disease - but lacking in specific information about the disease and its treatments.

And although American adults fear getting Alzheimer’s more than heart disease, stroke or diabetes, almost nine out of 10 people have taken no steps to prepare for the disease that attacks nearly 50 percent of those who live past age 85, according to the MetLife Foundation’s Alzheimer’s Survey,  What America Thinks

What’s even more frightening is the expected “onslaught” of the disease as the first baby boomers are about to turn 65 next year – and advanced age is the greatest known risk factor for the brain disorder, with the incidence of dementia doubling every five years beyond age 65.

There IS a lot to know about this progressive, degenerative disorder – and while the exact causes are still somewhat unknown, nutrition may be part of the puzzle. Joy Bauer, nutrition expert for NBC’s TODAY Show, says, “As we raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, one message we need to get out is that healthy lifestyle choices can play a role in helping to fight this illness, just like they do for other chronic diseases. Eating nutritious meals and snacks--and incorporating exercise into your daily routine -- is a big part of that. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by living a healthy lifestyle.”

Ironically and sadly, Joy’s own grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the same day Joy’s first child was born.

“One of the best changes you can make is adding leafy green vegetables--like nutrient-rich spinach, kale and Swiss chard--to meals and recipes. These powerhouse veggies can dramatically boost the quality of your diet,” says Joy.

Other nutrition tips:

  • Avoid trans-fat and saturated fats (such as red meats) and cholesterol

These fats can cause inflammation, as well as produce free radicals which, in high quantities, can damage or even kill valuable brain cells. (To keep a check on free radicals, eat foods high in antioxidants like vitamins C and E).

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

Good choices include those with dark skins (since dark-skinned fruits and veggies contain the highest levels of naturally occurring antioxidants so important for eliminating free radicals from your body). Eggplant, red bell peppers, beets, broccoli, spinach, seaweed, Brussels sprouts, red grapes, cherries, oranges and all kinds of berries are packed with antioxidants.

  • Get your omega-3s, which are beneficial to cell membranes.

Good coldwater fish picks include tuna, mackerel, anchovies, trout, herring, salmon, sardines and whitefish.

Green leafy vegetables, avocados, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil and peanut oil are other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Other findings on nutrition and Alzheimer’s:

Folate deficiency is associated with a tripling in the risk of developing dementia among elderly people, finds research in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. Folic acid reduces your homocysteine levels, which, if high, puts you at risk for both heart disease and memory loss.

Leafy green vegetables (like spinach and turnip greens), fruits (like citrus fruits and juices) and dried beans and peas are all natural sources of folate. Read more about folate here.

Vitamin C has been shown to lower your Alzheimer’s risk by 20 percent when taken along with vitamin E

Want to help? On Saturday, December 4th, The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is holding the first ever TV telethon called “Together for Care,” hosted by Al Roker of the TODAY Show. It will air on NBC in 16 major markets across the U.S. and will feature performances by American Idol Season 8 winner Kris Allen, Shontelle, among others, and celebrity guest appearances by Hector Elizondo, TODAY show co-anchor Natalie Morales, nutrition contributor Joy Bauer, talk show host Wendy Williams and more. The show will also be telecast online for national viewing at www.alzfdn.org.

More about the telethon:

The telethon will provide insight from experts into the current state of Alzheimer’s disease, and shed light on the daily challenges faced by families, including those caring for individuals with a rare form of the disease, called young onset, that affects people under age 65. Coinciding with the Alzheimer’s disease telethon, AFA is encouraging Americans to sign a petition urging President Obama and Congress to declare a “decade of care” for individuals with dementia and their families.

To read more about Alzheimer’s Disease, click here and here.

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Wow. I'd never heard some of this incidence data.

These are great tips. There is Alzheimer's in my mom's family so it is something I am concerned about. We also have a friendw with early onset which is tragic. I hope the telethon will raise lots of funds so we can cure and/or prevent this!

Oh, that is sad indeed. Hopefully research will be funded and will continue to find a cure/prevention that really works and saves so many people from this heartache.

Such a helpful post! I always know Midlife Matters will be informative. Thanks so much for writing this blog. I had no idea that Alzheimer's affects 50 percent of those who live past age 85!

Thanks for your kind comments, Alexandra! So many people are shocked by these statistics.

Excellent info - I'm sending it to a friend who might be in the early stage of Alzheimer's.

It's one of those scary mystery diseases where we feel like there's no control over it, so I love knowing there are nutrition options to lessen its impact.

So sorry about your friend. I hope this is able to give him or her some helpful guidelines.

My great aunt had Alzheimer's and my friend's dad did too. This information is REALLY important.

Thank you for the reminder to take certain vitamins and to eat the right foods, two things I forget to do!

Glad this was able to remind you, Sherry!

Isn't it amazing what an overall good diet can prevent? And it's such common sense - don't eat like crap and you'll decrease your chances of getting sick!

Isn't it amazing what an overall good diet can prevent? And it's such common sense - don't eat like crap and you'll decrease your chances of getting sick!

Food yields amazing powers, if we let it and make the right choices!

Thank you so much for writing something this timely and important. This horrible disease runs in my family and scares me to death.

I hope that this provides some guidance and gives us a sense of control. It's especially scary to see the people you love suffer.

Incidence doubles every five years after 65? That data is a big shock.

I agree. That statistic shocked - and frightened - me, too.

Really helpful info here. Once again, Sheryl, your lists a keeper.

It seems like the same foods and same diet is good for all that ails you, including your brain.

My grandmother had Alzheimer's so I'm always on the lookout for ways to stave off the disease. Nutrition. Exercise. Makes sense whether you're talking about Alzheimer's or any other disease. Good to know. Off to eat some walnuts...

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