Preventing and Reversing Cognitive Decline Such as Alzheimer’s
Nuerodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are becoming of increasing concern. According to Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, nearly half of all Americans will develop Alzheimer’s by the age of 85. Alzheimer’s is a cognitive disease that affects our memory, thinking and behavior while Parkinson’s may affect movement and coordination. What is fascinating to know is that these diseases can be prevented or the onset slowed by making simple improvements to one’s diet and lifestyle.
These neurodegenerative disorders are believed to have a variety of causes that create accumulative damage to vital cells in the brain. Possible causes include:
- Poor Diet
- Exposure to Environmental Toxins and Metals
- Lack of Exercise
- Lack of good quality sleep
The solution to prevent cognitive decline and other neurological issues is to make the food and lifestyle improvements recommended in this article.
An important area to consider is the diet. Damage to vital cellular components in the body often occurs as a result of free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen molecules that have become unstable and may damage healthy cells or cause them to multiply out of control. This damage to healthy cells can occur when you are not getting the proper nutrients and antioxidants (which stands for anti oxygen free radical) your body requires and also possibly, you are being exposed to environmental toxins.
According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, numerous studies have found that those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have nutrient deficiencies in vitamin C, Beta Carotene, and a variety of B vitamins, which will result in inflammation in the body. When these nutrients are deficient, homocysteine accumulates which is a brain-cell toxin, or excitotoxin, that can “excite brain cells to death” by generating a large number of free radicals in the brain.
The good news is that recent research has shown that certain foods can help prevent this cell damage and may even reverse memory problems if they are caught early. When you eat a diet that is high in antioxidants, you neutralize the free radicals, which will reduce or avoid the damage. A study done of 1367 people over 65 found that those with the highest intake of antioxidants from fruits and veggies had a 51% lower risk of cognitive decline. Antioxidants come from colorful and delicious plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. By filling your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables, you are supplying your immune system with the antioxidants it needs to keep your mind and body healthy.
High intake of cholesterol and high saturated and hydrogenated fats have been shown in many studies to dramatically increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. According to Dr. Blaylock, studies of the elderly have shown that the highest saturated fat intake increased risk by 90% while the highest cholesterol intake increased risk by 70%. Foods that are the highest in saturated fat are animal foods such as meat and dairy. All animal based foods such as meat, fish, chicken and dairy are the only sources of cholesterol. There is ZERO cholesterol in all plant foods.
In some studies, the traditional Mediterranean diet was found to be very helpful in preventing cognitive decline because this diet tends to be low in unhealthy fats and low in cholesterol. People following this way of eating tend to eat olive oil as opposed to other fats. Some studies point to the intake of fish as being a beneficial part of the Mediterranean diet too due to the high intake of Omega 3 fats with EPA/DHA. The problem today is that the water is so highly polluted and Dr. Barnard has stated that because of this, fish and seafood are high sources of metals (such as mercury) and environmental contaminates and should be avoided. Kale and blueberries and other colorful fruits and veggies are found to protect the brain from excitotoxins and mercury.
High sugar intake is also damaging to the brain. Focusing on whole plant foods will help you to avoid sugary processed junk foods and sweets. Learn to make wonderfully healthy desserts from whole fruits, nuts and seeds. Please see many delicious yet healthy desert examples in our recipe book, “Fabulous Recipes for Vibrant Health”.
So, getting adequate antioxidants and certain nutrients while eliminating intake of animal based saturated fats and cholesterol is key to not only preventing but also slowing the development of these diseases.
Below is a list of Key Antioxidants and Nutrients:
- Vitamin C – is a powerful antioxidant from peppers, citrus, kiwi, strawberries and green leafy vegetables such as parsley, kale etc…
- Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are special antioxidants that act together to protect the brain from free radicals, which come from carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, winter squash, mangoes, peaches, apricots, papayas, persimmons and more.
- B-vitamins – some studies have shown that vitamin B can help improve cognitive performance.
- B1 from bananas, carrots, spinach and peas.
- B6 One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people on high concentrations of vitamin B-6 performed better on two measures of memory. B6 helps control levels of homocysteine in the blood. Your body needs B6 in order to absorb vitamin B12 and to make red blood cells and cells of the immune system. Some foods that are high in B6 include avocados, bananas, brown rice, carrots, spinach, potatoes, nuts and seeds.
- B9 or Folate from spinach and other greens, broccoli, beans, avocado, asparagus, citrus fruit, bananas, mangoes (and other tropical fruit), sunflower seeds, flax seeds, nutritional yeast and many other foods.
- B12 from fortified foods such as soy, rice, almond milk, nutritional yeast and supplements.
- Selenium from Brazil nuts, mushrooms, asparagus, sunflower seeds and whole grains etc..
- Vitamin E – Dr. Neal Barnard speaks of studies that show that people with the highest Vitamin E intake reduce the risk of cognitive impairment by anywhere from 25-70%. Vitamin E is high in foods such as sweet potatoes, mangoes, spinach and other greens, broccoli, almonds along with other nuts and seeds.
- Vitamin D3 from the sun and fortified foods and supplements.
- Omega 3 with EPA/DHA protects the brain from excitotoxins. Include flax, walnuts and chia seeds in your diet and supplement with algae and algae oils for healthy sources of DHA.
- Glutathione – is an antioxidant, which comes from a high intake of fruits and vegetables, protects the brain. This comes from many fruits and veggies especially garlic, onions, parsley, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, cauliflower, bok choy and cabbage, avocadoes, squash, tomatoes and turmeric.
- Flavonoids – are a variety of compounds that are synthesized by plants. Flavonoids protect cells through a variety of ways and they help to increase levels of glutathione and prevent excessive inflammation. There are many sources of flavonoids including apples, apricots, berries, pears, black and pinto beans, cabbage, onions, parsley and tomatoes.
Limiting your exposure to environmental toxins and heavy metals is another key strategy to prevent the onset of cognitive decline.
Environmental contaminates are in our air, food and water, but by trying to choose organic foods where possible and using spring or filtered water, and avoiding use of chemicals in your home, you may limit your exposure.
Heavy exposure to metals has been found to be a key concern for memory disorders. Dr. Neal Barnard recommends avoiding aluminum or iron cookware and as stated above, avoid consuming fish, to protect your brain from over-exposure. Mercury is a highly toxic substance and is not only found in fish and seafood, but also in mercury teeth fillings and in some vaccines. If you are in need of fillings in your teeth or choose to get vaccines, please request ones that are free of mercury.
Keep an active mind and body to help improve memory. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “regular physical exercise, specifically aerobic exercise, can help slow memory loss and improve mental function.” In a discussion on preventing Alzheimer’s, Dr. Oz referenced a study that showed that the most active groups showed the least cognitive decline and that walking as little as 1 ½ hours per week did the trick. It is “better yet, however, to do 30 minutes a day” for overall health and wellbeing. Keeping your mind engaged in activities too, such as reading or puzzles or taking classes to learn something new, are great strategies to keep your mind sharp.
Getting sufficient good quality sleep and managing stress levels is key as well to a healthy mind and body. Being active during the day will help to improve sleep at night and moderate exercise will help to reduce the affects of stress too. Practice deep breathing exercises and positive thinking to keep stress at bay.
So, in summary, there is much you can do to keep your mind and body healthy and avoid cognitive decline as you age. According to Dr. Oz, you can slash your risk by as much as 60% by incorporating these diet and lifestyle improvements. By increasing your intake of whole plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes such as beans and peas, nuts and seeds and decreasing or eliminating all together your intake of high fat high cholesterol animal foods, eliminating your exposure to environmental toxins, getting exercise, sleep and reducing stress, you not only improve your chances of preventing memory loss or other neurodegenerative disorders, you may even reverse what has already begun to occur.