Can We Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?
Maybe – but the solution is not necessarily medical
Certainly none of us would consciously and deliberately choose Alzheimer’s disease, but by the same token, none of us would choose heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or a host of other diseases that are life threatening or otherwise impede our quality of life. And yet, many of us choose disease every day! It is not that we actively embrace disease; indeed, many of us never truly consider the risks of our lifestyle choices. But we often adopt habits that increase our chances of developing cancer or heart disease, certain respiratory diseases, and who knows what else? The question then becomes, can we prevent Alzheimer’s disease by changing some bad habits?
..so good choices should reduce the risk
A recent study (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Sept 2014) found that changes in lifestyle can potentially prevent 4 out of 5 heart attacks. It is no surprise that giving up tobacco is the most beneficial change; other recommendations of the research team include:
- A diet including a lot of vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts legumes, and low-fat dairy products
- Limit alcohol consumption
I mention this study to emphasize the fact that the choices we make every day can greatly influence our health, but also because we know that things that improve our heart health also protect us from most types of dementia.
But is Alzheimer’s a product of our lifestyle? And can we prevent Alzheimer’s disease? The simple answer is—we don’t know. Not for sure. On the other hand, we are noticing more and more a strong correlation between certain environmental factors and dementia. For example, a study in the British Medical Journal (September 2014) found that the use of benzodiazepines, a drug prescribed for anxiety and sleep problems can significantly increase a person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Benzodiazepines are among the most frequently prescribed drugs in industrialized countries.
Researchers have long noticed correlations between diet, exercise, and certain other “habits”, and the risk of cognitive disorder including dementia. The banner above helps to illustrate my point. First, I wish to thank Alzheimer’s Disease International for making this illustration available. It was published a few years ago to observe World Alzheimer’s Month , which is September each year. The purpose of the graphic is to bring attention to the fact that we very well may be able to increase our resistance to, and maybe prevent Alzheimer’s, by changing just a few things. Notice the similarities between the suggestions implied by the banner and the suggestions for decreasing the risk of heart attack.
These are not recommendations that Alzheimer’s Disease International made up out of thin air. Research supporting their contention goes back quite a few years. In fact, and not to toot my own horn, I wrote an article early in 2010 that made these same suggestions, plus a few, so the information has been available for some time. Now, even Dr. Oz is on board. I have seen several recent articles that quote him touting lifestyle changes to minimize the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
ADI didn’t specifically recommend quitting smoking on its banner; if you smoke it’s the first thing to do if you are contemplating a lifestyle change for health.
Even The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, whose mission it is “to rapidly accelerate the discovery of drugs to prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s disease”, has a page devoted to lifestyle changes; non-pharmacological considerations that may impact how we treat the threat of Alzheimer’s. The ADDF references the Finnish Geriatric Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER), one of several investigations underway in Europe that are looking for correlations between lifestyle and cognitive health. According to lead author Miia Kivipelto , “multidomain lifestyle intervention that included nutritional guidance, physical activity, cognitive training and social activities, and monitoring and management of all metabolic and vascular risk factors, including hypertension, dyslipidemia, obesity, and impaired glucose tolerance,” FINGER is slated to wrap up at the end of 2014 but already is already garnering positive results. In other words, maybe lifestyle choices may help us prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
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