What would you do if you carried a gene that made you susceptible to Alzheimer’s? When bestselling author Jean Carper discovered that she and her sisters carried such a gene, she researched the factors in her life that she could control.
The result was an empowering book* that analyses scientific studies and sets out easy changes we can all make to keep our brains healthy. These simple changes, as well as easy tips for everyday activities, are the first step in lowering your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
1 Drink more apple juice
Why? Apple juice boosts a brain messenger chemical called acetylcholine, which is lacking in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Apples also contain the plant chemical quercetin, which may mimic a drug called Aricept (donepezil), which is used to treat early-onset Alzheimer’s. Apples also help fight inflammation of the brain tissue and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes – both risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
Try this: Drink two glasses of apple juice per day, or eat two apples.
2 Keep your balance
Why? The longer you can stand on one leg is linked to how likely you are to get Alzheimer’s. Our ability to balance is a measure of the health of our vestibular system, which controls movement, our orientation in space, and balance.
Try this: Can you stand on one leg for 30 seconds, without losing your balance? The more you practise, the better you’ll get. Standing up and sitting down without using your hands is also good for balance, as are t’ai chi and yoga.
3 Grow a bigger brain
Why? A bigger, better-working brain may fend off Alzheimer’s. We now know that you can grow new brain cells and pump up the size and function of old ones in the areas governing memory and learning.
Try this: Activity is the key – and it has to be aerobic, so walking is excellent, but stretching, toning and strengthening won’t help. Learning, if it’s demanding, is also good. People in professions that require a thorough knowledge of a geographical areas can actually develop a larger hippocampus – the part of the brain that’s involved in memory.
4 Take care of your teeth
Why? Infection that causes gum disease is thought to give off inflammatory by-products that travel to areas of the brain involved in memory loss.
Try this: Brush, floss and ensure that you and your family see the dentist regularly for treatment to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
5 Ease up a little
Why? People who have a positive, outgoing and relaxed personality are 50% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than pessimists.
Try this: It’s hard to beat the habits of a lifetime, but making a conscious effort to take minor setbacks in your stride and think positively will make a difference. Any exercise, from sport to household chores or walking, also helps.
6 Drink tea
Why? Tea leaves are packed with compounds that are able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and block neuronal damage. Researchers from UCLA found that if you drink at least three cups of green or black tea per day, you’ll reduce your risk of having a stroke by 21%.
Try this: Drink real and brewed black and green tea. Both have benefits, but green tea has three to four times more antioxidants. Let the bag or leaves steep in hot water for five minutes and don’t add milk, which can reduce the tea’s antioxidant activity by as much as 25%.
7 Let loose on vinegar
Why? Normalising insulin in the body is possibly the biggest favour you can do for your ageing brain. Although vinegar doesn’t directly confront Alzheimer’s, it sinks risk factors that may lead to memory decline – such as high blood sugar, insulin resistance and diabetes – by reducing blood-sugar spikes. Basically, it slows the rate at which your stomach enzymes digest food, specifically energy-dense carbohydrates. This simple process also helps to curb cravings by keeping your appetite – and your waistline – in check.
Try this: Add vinegar to salad dressings, soups and other dishes. Just four teaspoons in your salad dressing, for instance, can reduce blood-sugar surges from an average meal by up to 30%. The good news is, any type of vinegar works (apple cider, white, balsamic, wine or fruit vinegars). It’s the acidity that counts, so lemon and lime juice also help to curb blood-sugar peaks.
8 Love language
Why? Being good at writing essays in your school days or having a talent for foreign languages may help counter symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
Try this: Writing courses, book clubs and learning a language will all stimulate your brain, which is why the school of thought that it’s never too late to study holds true for preventing Alzheimer’s. Learning encourages concentration, focus and other mental activities that encourage bran cells to build better connections. Visit openculture.com for free online language, history and cultural courses.
9 Call a friend
Why? A wide social circle makes your brain more efficient and helps to build what experts call “cognitive reserve” (spare capacity). The stronger that reserve is, the more likely you are to stave off Alzheimer’s. A recent Chicago-based study showed that those who scored the highest on memory and thinking tests engaged in regular social activities like playing bingo, taking day trips and participating in volunteer work.
Try this: Try a new activity or join a new course or social group to meet new people. Keep in touch with extended family, who can get relegated to Christmas gatherings.
10 Cook up a curry
Why? India has one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s in the world. It’s thought the plant chemical curcumin, found in turmeric, helps slow build-up of protein “plaques” in the brain, a trait of the disease. Lab studies show curcumin also helped eat away at existing plaques.
Try this: Choose yellow curries that contain turmeric. Not a fan? Try taking a curcumin supplement. Solal Curcumin, R169,95 for 30 capsules, wellnesswarehouse.com.
11 more brain boosters
Meditating may increase brain-cell numbers, stimulate the growth of larger brain cells, or even rewire brain circuitry.
Eating berries that have a high antioxidant content blocks brain-cell-destroying inflammation and oxidative damage.
Controlling blood pressure cuts the risk of stroke.
Avoiding Omega-6 fat, a vicious source of inflammation and braincell death, means cutting processed and fast food.
Drinking coffee (in moderation) gives a caffeine boost, plus a helping of antioxidants.
Protecting your heart through diet and exercise protects your brain, too.
Enjoying nature with a walk in the park or countryside has similar effects to meditating and helps boost memory.
Getting a good night’s sleep is a way to subdue some of the brain’s enemies.
Eating nuts, especially walnuts or almonds, is good for your heart and brain – but only have a few at a time as they’re fattening.
Enjoying work and feeling excited about projects makes your brain stronger.
Wearing a seat-belt or a sports helmet reduces the risk of head injury, which can – over time – hasten the onset of dementia.
The way to a cure?
Exciting research findings from Professor Julie Williams of Cardiff University could lead to Alzheimer’s being regarded as a preventable illness. Professor Williams and her team have discovered several new genes that shed fresh light on the causes of Alzheimer’s. “The genes currently identified account for 20% of this risk, and more risk genes will be discovered. For example, we’ve discovered three risk genes involved in controlling how proteins get in and out of cells – this is a breakthrough, which could lead to the prevention of the build-up of protein clumps involved in the development of Alzheimer’s.
These discoveries provide possibilities for developing drugs to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s, which would be great alongside preventative measures taken in your lifestyle, like making sure you’re eating well, reducing your risk of infection, staying positive and exercising regularly so that your brain cells can flourish.
More and more studies suggest that regular exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 40%. Even the smallest changes can make a big difference in delaying the onset of the disease.