Protecting Our Brains as We Age
Alzheimer’s Dementia is the sixth leading cause of death, and one of the most feared of diseases. As the average age increases, Alzheimer’s dementia and other forms of memory loss are becoming more common and more of a concern. Now more than ever, American’s brains tend to malfunction before we are finished with them.
Also, if Alzheimer’s robs us of our minds, our bodies are not of much use either. If you are like me, you highly value your mind, and want to protect it now so it will serve you well later!
Research indicates that memory decline starts typically in our 40’s, along with a steady, progressive, well-documented “brain shrinkage” that is unpleasant to think about, but a reality that can be addressed. Experts tell us that the brain shrinks at 1% every two years in typical adults, but five times that rate in those with Alzheimer’s.
Are there simple strategies to protect our minds as we age? Will it make a difference? The research would say yes, but starting sooner rather than later is a key.
We have an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. By age 85, 50% of individuals have symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The disease process, however, starts much earlier, often decades before the first symptoms appear. If you plan to live to 85 and beyond, risks are high for developing Alzheimer’s dementia. So, the truth is clear that …
Following simple strategies to help prevent Alzheimer’s is wise for EVERYONE!
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a disease of brain malfunction caused by the formation of “beta amyloid plaques” in the brain, which damage and destroy memory related cells. And since brain cells are difficult (or impossible) to regrow, we must protect our brain aggressively as we age. Once too many brain cells have died, it’s too late. So there is no time like the present to get started.
Strategies for Protecting Your Brain from Alzheimer’s (and age related memory loss):
Here are two simple strategies to protect your brain from Alzheimer’s and age related memory loss. Although more research is needed, current evidence indicates these strategies will likely make a difference in supporting the health and longevity of your brain:
- Mediterranean “Nutrient-Rich” Foods and Beverages. Consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, fish, and whole grains long term is associated with improved brain function and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s, especially when sugar intake is limited. One study showed a 48% lower risk of Alzheimer’s in those closely following the Mediterranean Diet. Consuming teas, limited red wine and 3-5 cups of coffee per day, as Mediterranean-friendly beverages, are also associated with brain health and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Be Trim and Fit. Alzheimer’s is 2-3 times more common in those who are overweight. MRI scans have shown that excess weight is associated with smaller brain size and acceleration of mental decline. Excessive calorie intake was found by the Mayo Clinic to double the risk of mental decline.And we all know that maintaining our fitness plan is the right thing to do for our body AND our mind! Fitness works! Even 9 minutes daily is enough to improve health and lower your risk of things like Alzheimer’s and early death!
Importantly, one study showed those losing significant weight had improvements of memory within 3 months! So, even if excess weight has occurred, it’s not too late to address it. Get help as needed to achieve a healthy weight. (Learn more here – TagueNutrition.com.)
- Essential Nutrients. Vitamins D, B-6, B-12, and folate have all been studied for their brain-protective functions. Research on the elderly has shown those with low B12 or folate have twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s over the next 3 years. These key nutrients are believed by many experts to slow the rate of brain shrinkage and improve mental function by lowering levels of the compound homocysteine in our blood.One study showed those with elevated homocysteine who supplemented with B-6, B-12, and folate had 53% less brain shrinkage compared to those not taking these 3 vitamins. Research in 2012 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementing these vitamins improved mental function within 24 months. Research is ongoing.
Omega 3 fatty acids (as found in fish oil) are another essential nutrient that promotes brain health. Data from the Women’s Health Study found that women with higher blood levels of Omega-3 oils had brains that were 2 cubic centimeters larger than average, indicating less brain shrinkage. Blood levels of Omega-3 oils are associated with improved mental function in older people who have struggled with depression.
Note: Our simple to order Essential Nutrient Package is an easy way to get the full spectrum of these and other core nutrients to support optimum health of brain and body. Unfortunately, optimal amounts are difficult or impossible to find in common foods. Essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids) should always be the starting point for any nutritional supplement plan.
- Green tea with caffeine. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported in 2006 the following, “a higher consumption of green tea is associated with a lower prevalence of cognitive (mental) impairment”. The researchers go on to explain the evidence that EGCG, a compound in green tea, appears to protect the brain from the beta amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s. Other studies have shown immediate memory benefits from caffeine and potential long-term memory protection.Drinking green tea is a great option. Supplements with concentrates of EGCG and caffeine are available, such as Energy Plus, one of our most popular supplements, which also contains ginseng for mood and energy support.
- Resveratrol. A 2014 study in the Journal of Neuroscience gave significant evidence that 200 mg per day of resveratrol (found in red wine) improved memory performance and “functional connectivity” in memory regions of the brain in just 6 months.Supplements of Resveratrol have gotten attention due to their apparent ability to slow aspects of aging and support many areas of health, including lowering blood sugars in diabetics and lowering blood pressure. One 200 mg capsule daily is adequate for most aspects of prevention and health.
Stay informed. Other research is ongoing. For example, Alpha Lipoic Acid and Acetyl L-Carnitine are being researched for memory protection and protection from age related memory loss. Research in those living past 100 years showed improved mental function after taking L-Carnitine. These 2 supplements are components of my personal anti-aging plan for mind and body! A simple baby aspirin each day may also lower risks, but only if approved by your physician. Keep aware of ongoing research as it becomes available.
Although additional options exist for keeping your mind functioning well with age, these simple strategies are more than enough to get you started. The use it or lose it strategy (exercising your mind and memory) works too! The key is to get started with your brain health plan now. Start before symptoms occur to lower your risks to the fullest. Everyone can embrace the lifestyle and nutrition strategies listed above, and I personally am a strong proponent of assuring intake of essential nutrients through supplementation. Other research-based supplements can be added according to one’s personal health goals and strategies.
Just remember, Optimum Health is ALWAYS worth the effort.
For Optimum Health,
Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.