Recently Dr. Neal Barnard, author of Power Foods for the Brain and president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, spoke at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford, Illinois to a capacity crowd of 340 people.
His book tells us how we can reduce the risk of getting dementia and Alzheimer’s. Research has shown Alzheimer’s hits half of us in the United States by the age of 85. Five million Americans now have Alzheimer’s. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include (1):
◦ Difficulty learning/remembering new things – lose belongings, ask questions repeatedly.
◦ Poor reasoning, judgement or problem solving – struggle making decisions/planning.
◦ Poor visual/spacial abilities – difficulty recognizing faces, tying shoes, doing buttons.
◦ Losing language skills – difficulty finding words, reading, or writing becomes difficult.
◦ Personality changes – become irritable, agitated or apathetic.
For Dr. Barnard, it’s personal. All four of his grandparents had Alzheimer’s. This would make us ask, “Is Alzheimer’s genetic?” Genetics is linked to an increased risk of dementia, however at least one third of the people who have this gene do not get Alzheimer’s. So what what’s the answer?
Research has suggested foods and lifestyle can help protect us from dementia and Alzheimer’s despite our genetics. The Chicago Health and Aging Project study found people who ate the most saturated fat (fried foods, dairy, meat) had more than three times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. For people eating store-bought baked goods and snack foods containing trans fats and French fries cooked in oil with trans fat, the risk of Alzheimer’s is more than five times that of those not consuming these foods. Both of these fats increase the production of a protein found in a plaque that deposits between our brain cells and singes the connections between our brain cells. It also causes the interior of brain cells to resemble tangled balls of yarn.
Three is a strong relationship between nutrition and Alzheimer’s. Here are foods we can eat and things we can do to dramatically reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s or make improvements to our memory in a few months if we have early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
◦ Eliminate foods with saturated and trans fats which create plaques in the brain that prevent signaling between brain cells.
◦ Eat foods with vitamin E such as spinach, almonds, sunflower seeds, broccoli, and Swiss chard to neutralize damaging free radical cells.
◦ Folate found in romaine lettuce, cauliflower, beets, lentils and beans eliminates damaging homocysteine that circulates in our blood and contributes to Alzheimer’s.
◦ B6 in bananas, bell peppers, watermelon, and Brussels sprouts reduces homocystine levels and increases cognition.
◦ B12 found in fortified foods and in the form of a supplement helps remove homocystine.
◦ Do not take supplements containing copper, iron, or zinc. Our body needs these minerals, however taking supplements containing these minerals may give us to much which can be damaging to brain cells. Get these minerals from food sources.
◦ Exercise. It helps grow new connections between brain cells.
◦ Do brain exercises like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, reading or other cognitive activities to increase the number of connections between brain cells.
Our genes are not our fate. Be smart and be sure to include these recommendations in your daily life to keep your brain healthy.
1 Barnard, N. (2013) Foods That Fight Pain, New York: Grand Central Life and Style.