You know – that dreaded disease you believe will either afflict you personally one day or else a loved one you will have to care for. If it’s Alzheimer’s disease, you have lots of company. According to a 2011 study, 31% of Americans fear this debilitating, dignity robbing cognitive disease more than cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes or any other. And that’s for good reason. It is the most common kind of dementia and the 6th leading cause of death. The lifetime risk of Alzheimer’s disease among those who reach the age of 65 is approximately 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 10 among men. And, its rate of occurrence seems to be growing all the time.
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease that causes loss mental function including thinking, remembering and reasoning. It gets worse in stages, and people with Alzheimer’s usually have a gradual memory loss as well as difficulty concentrating, loss of judgment, personality changes, loss of language skills, and a decline in the ability to learn new tasks. In advanced stages, people with Alzheimer’s can lose all memory and mental abilities.
So if it is one of the top two feared diseases in America, what can be done to prevent it? A study released in the January 2012 issue of Neurology revealed a diet rich in vitamins and healthy fats may help older adults stay cognitively sharp. The findings noted that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of vitamins B, C, D, and E nutrients were associated wit increased cognitive performance, a healthier brain as seen on MRI, and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. On the contrary, the researchers reported that a diet high in trans-fats was associated with poorer cognitive function and worse performance on memory, attention, and language tests. So, although there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, clinical studies continue to affirm that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help with prevention. With that in “mind”, here are a few dietary tips to promote healthy brain functioning:
- Eat more cold-water fish, such as tuna and salmon. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit the brain. You should try to eat fish at least two to three times per week or take a daily fish oil supplement. It is important to note that seafood may contain high levels of environmental toxins, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In particular, halibut, swordfish and shark carry higher levels of mercury. Therefore, you should limit consumption of these types of fish. Furthermore, try to choose a fish oil supplement that has been purified from environmental contaminants, which will be clearly noted on the label.
- Eat a variety of dark-colored fruits and vegetables. These foods contain vitamins and antioxidants, which may help prevent damage caused by free radicals, a possible trigger of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Eat a variety of herbs and spices, especially garlic. Garlic contains allicin, a compound that helps prevent high blood pressure. Maintaining normal blood pressure levels may reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
- Avoid sugary beverages, sodas, candies and desserts. Poorly-controlled blood glucose levels increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. To further maintain healthy blood glucose, you should eat small, healthy snacks throughout the day such as apple slices or a handful of almonds.
- Last, avoid trans-fatty foods. This includes commercially pre-packaged goods, French Fries, microwave popcorn and other foods that contain margarine or vegetable shortening, such as cookies and crackers.
Bear in mind that Alzheimer’s can take as long as 10 to 20 years before symptoms begin. But, if you employ a healthy eating plan today, you just may be able to decrease your risk of developing the condition. Don’t be paralyzed by the fear of this disease. Rather, begin now taking steps to prevent it by eating those brain healthy foods discussed here.
 What America Thinks MetLife Foundation Alzheimer’s Survey conducted by Harris Interactive for MetLife Foundation, February 2011
 Alzheimer’s Disease Research from the American Health Assistance Foundation, January 2012.
 National Institute of Health and National Institute on Aging, November 2011.
 Bowman GL, et al “Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging” Neurology 2012; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182436598.
 Ried K, Frank OR, Stocks NP, et al. Effect of garlic on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cardiovasc Disord 2008;8:13.