How do you know what these factors are so you can reduce your total risk?
Since the majority are related to what you put in your mouth, any long-term solution must involve fundamental changes to your diet.
The contributory factors include:
- A genetic predisposition
- Lack of antioxidant nutrients
- Lack of omega-3 fats
- Excessive stress and elevated cortisol
- Poor blood sugar control and excess carbs
- Raised homocysteine
- Lack of B vitamins
- Indigestion and/or malabsorption
- Poor circulation.
Aside from a genetic predisposition, each of these can be prevented and these prevention steps form the basis of my Alzheimer’s Prevention Diet. But be aware that having a genetic predisposition, such as having the ApoE4 gene, on its own is not enough to cause the disease. Only one in a hundred cases of Alzheimer’s are ‘caused’ by the extremely rare familial pre-senilin genes causing very early onset Alzheimer’s.
An inflammatory issue?
It is highly likely that both cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s result at least in part from the same or a similar disease process. In cardiovascular disease the arteries become inﬂamed and damaged. A similar process occurs in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease. Often, the two diseases occur together. A review carried out at New York University’s neurology department highlights the fact that at least a third of patients with Alzheimer’s also have some degree of vascular disease. Not only does the presence of cardiovascular disease greatly increase the chances of getting Alzheimer’s, especially if you happen to have the ApoE4 gene,1 but many causative factors apply to both conditions.
It’s one of those chicken or egg situations. For example, having vascular disease tends to speed up the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s. Once cardiovascular disease is present, blockages in arteries may lead to a poor supply of key nutrients to the brain – a condition known as cerebrovascular disease. And without a good supply of antioxidants, brain cells become more vulnerable to damage from free radicals, rogue molecules produced by combustion, for example from frying foods or smoking. So cerebrovascular disease is intimately linked to both a lack of antioxidants and excess exposure to oxidants. Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins C and E have been shown to help both conditions – not only to mop up these brain pollutants, but also to reduce inﬂammation.
Cerebrovascular disease is also strongly linked to having a high homocysteine level. Based on an analysis of all current research, having a high homocysteine level makes you more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as having cerebrovascular disease. A high H score also makes you much more likely to develop cerebrovascular disease. So, whichever way you cut it, keeping your homocysteine level low is essential.
All of these factors – a lack of antioxidants, too many brain pollutants, the presence of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease – tend to increase the risk and severity of Alzheimer’s, with the critical link being inﬂammation. Now, let’s explore how this inﬂammation occurs, and how to prevent it.
The presence of beta-amyloid plaques or remains of dead cells and other waste material in the brain distinguish Alzheimer’s from other forms of dementia. Beta-amyloid is an abnormal protein that is also found in the plaques of arterial deposits. It is a toxic invader that arises when the body is in ‘emergency mode’, as can happen when a person’s total environmental overload exceeds their genetic capacity to adapt. In such cases, the person’s immune system can become over-reactive and trigger inﬂammation. In fact, most major diseases involve inﬂammation. That includes cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and any that end in ‘itis’ – colitis, arthritis, bronchitis and sinusitis, for instance.
So, looked at in this way, the presence of the ApoE4 gene simply means a person has less genetic capacity to adapt to the insults of today’s diets and lifestyles. But this weakness can be countered by optimum nutrition, which endows us with more adaptive capacity by giving the brain and body a less toxic chemical environment. Inﬂammation, in this model, is the alarm bell. It’s your body telling you something is wrong.
To get rid of inﬂammation you have to get to the root cause, and in my book The Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan you can find out how digestive problems, too much sugar and stress, a lack of antioxidants and too much homocysteine can all lead to inﬂammation.
Looking at Alzheimer’s as an inﬂammatory disease also explains why taking anti-inﬂammatory drugs offers some protection from it, which is consistent with the hypothesis that the damage that occurs to brain cells is part of an overall inﬂammatory reaction. But unfortunately many of these drugs end up encouraging inﬂammation and in the long run by damaging the gut, which leads to more inﬂammation!
Luckily, there are natural anti-inﬂammatory nutrients that don’t harm the digestive tract, and these may prove to be more effective, both in the long run and in preventing inﬂammation. Antioxidants and omega-3 fats are effective anti-inﬂammatories. There are also some very powerful antiinﬂammatory herbs, such as turmeric.
You can check out your own risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia in the Alzheimer’s Risk Factors Check below but far better is to complete Food for the Brain’s free online ......
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