Critical tools for an incredibly important disease
By Austin Perlmutter, MD
Right now, there is no widely available, efficacious treatment that reverses or significantly slows the progression of Alzheimer's.
Engaging in physical activity is a powerful way to keep the brain sharp and reduce the risk of dementia, especially in individuals carrying the APOE4 gene. Even people with Alzheimer's may experience cognitive improvements through regular physical activity.
A whole-food, minimally processed diet: Consuming a diet rich in minimally processed foods, nuts, vegetables, olive oil, and fish, such as the Mediterranean pattern diet, can protect against cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's dementia. Avoiding the "Standard American Diet" with its processed and sugary foods is essential for brain health.
Meaningful and complex brain exercises: Learning and engaging in cognitive activities can help build cognitive reserve and lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Activities like playing games, practicing instruments, traveling, or reading books can contribute to brain health.
Reducing air pollution: Air quality directly affects brain health, and air pollution is considered a central risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. To reduce this risk, individuals can take steps like quitting smoking, minimizing exposure to air fresheners, reducing exposure to wildfire smoke, ventilating the kitchen when cooking, and using air purifiers.
As an MD, I can say that there are few conditions more challenging than Alzheimer's. As a member of an extended family where multiple people have died from Alzheimer's, I can tell you that the pain of losing someone before they're physically gone can be unbearable. Right now, there is no widely available, efficacious treatment that reverses or significantly slows the progression of Alzheimer's. This is why I've spent so much of my time working with incredible people to try to educate the public on the evidence-based, simple steps that all of us need to be taking TODAY to help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that is characterized by memory loss and personality changes and is the most common form of dementia around the world. It impacts millions of Americans, and is estimated to impact over 150 million people around the world in the coming decades. We now know that our lifestyle dramatically alters our risk for developing this condition. Here's a free online event on this subject, as well as my list of some of the best-studied strategies to help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
1. Regular exercise
Exercising so we can look good at the beach may make sense to some. But everyone needs to know that exercise is among the most powerful ways we can keep our brain sharp and help prevent dementia. In human studies, exercise has been associated with a neuroprotective effect, especially in regions damaged by Alzheimer's disease. Simply put, people who exercise are in general at a lower risk for getting dementia. Importantly, this may be even more important in people who carry the APOE4 gene. What's even more amazing is that even people with Alzheimer's may show cognitive improvements with regular physical activity.
2. A whole-food, minimally processed diet
For a number of reasons, modern food has largely been replaced with ultra-processed junk that's loaded with added sugar, preservatives and any number of other additives that add flavor and palatability at the expense of nutrition. Consumption of the typical modern diet (the so called "Standard American Diet or "SAD") is linked to higher rates of brain issues from dementia to depression. Conversely, a diet rich in minimally processed foods, nuts, vegetables, olive oil, and fish (aka the Mediterranean pattern diet) has been shown to have a protective effect against risk for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's dementia.
3. Meaningful and complex brain exercises
"If you don't use it, you lose it!" This statement, though applied to a number of concepts, seems particularly true around brain health. It's no surprise that people who commit to learning more may be at lower risk for Alzheimer's. Learning can help us build cognitive reserve, connecting our neurons and insulating our brains against the effects of aging. You can take advantage of this by playing a daily game, practicing an instrument, traveling or even reading a book!
4. Reducing air pollution exposure
A wide variety of publications in recent years demonstrate that our air quality directly relates to our brain quality. This research is so profound that air pollution is now considered to be a central risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Air pollution is thought to damage our brains and bodies by producing inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as decreasing oxygen in the brain. While air pollution can come from a variety of sources, some straightforward first steps include smoking cessation for yourself (and don't breathe secondhand smoke), reducing air fresheners, minimizing exposure to wildfire smoke, ventilating your kitchen when cooking and using an air purifier.