Alzheimer’s Disease: A Healthy Lifestyle is Still the Best Defense
Since the founding of the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) in 1979, public awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease has grown dramatically. Public campaigns launched by AA have promoted not only awareness about the disease, but also offered education, resources and research.
Causes and onset of Alzheimer’s Disease
According to Bastyr clinical professor Eric Jones, ND, whose mother died from the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, the exact causes of the disease remain unknown, although research points to factors such as genetics and environmental insults. Studies have shown that the greatest known risk for developing Alzheimer’s is increasing age. As many as 10 percent of all people 65 years of age and older have Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Jones explains that Alzheimer’s has a subtle onset. “The disease progresses silently for years. By the time symptoms become apparent, the person is already in early stage Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s live an average of 8 years after diagnosis, but may survive anywhere from 3 to 20 years. It makes sense, then, to establish healthy lifestyle habits at an early age in order to have the best chance of prevention.”
There is still no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It is speculated however, that a healthy lifestyle may help delay the onset of the disease. Fortunately, those concerned about overall good health, especially in preventing or improving conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, obesity and diabetes, are already taking many of the steps that are thought to aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
Engaging in a preventative lifestyle
Says Dr. Jones, “Engaging in a lifestyle that improves circulation, assists in maintaining ideal body weight and normal blood sugar levels, maintains normal cholesterol levels, and promotes a healthy emotional state may give people a head start in delaying Alzheimer’s. The best foundation for supporting the body’s fight against any disease is good diet, a good exercise routine and good sleep habits.”
1. Vitamins. Recent studies indicate that taking vitamins C and E may help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Of course, the ideal way to get antioxidants such as vitamins C and E to the brain is by eating them in their original form as whole foods in a healthy diet. The same is true for omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for optimal cell function. “I recommend eating one to two servings of fish per week, such as cod or salmon, to get your omega-3 fatty acids,” says Jones, “Fish oil supplements can also be added to your diet.”
2. Nutrition. Other nutrients being studied for their beneficial effects in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease are phosphatidyl choline, phosphatidylserine, and acetyl-L-carnitine, as well as the herbs gotu kola and butcher’s broom.
3. Exercise. Improving blood flow to the brain contributes to the integrity of all its processes. A sure-fire way to increase circulation is by exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week. “You don’t necessarily have to go out and jog,” says Jones. “Try brisk walking, bicycling, or swimming. Recent studies support gardening as one of the best exercises for health and well-being.”
4. Mental exercise. But don’t limit your exercise to physical activity alone. Jones points out that mental activity is just as important. “Working the brain is similar to working muscles — the more it’s used, the less it declines over time.” He suggests keeping your mind active by taking up hobbies, doing crossword puzzles, reading and socializing. “Doing activities outside your normal routine are especially stimulating to the brain.” As always, it’s important to check with your physician before starting any new physical activity.
5. Herbs. Some herbs may be helpful in slowing the decline in mental function, though the medical literature is somewhat controversial particularly regarding Ginkgo biloba. In addition, some of the herbs and supplements (particularly vitamin E and Ginkgo) that people might consider for Alzheimers can act as anti-coagulants and cause bleeding in high doses, especially in patients who are already taking anti-coagulation medications (including aspirin). There are other herbs that can help with circulation, especially bioflavanoids found in berries. As always, it is best to consult with your personal medical doctor as well as a naturopathic physician, prior to beginning herbs to ensure that your combined regimen is safe.
6. Pharmaceutical drugs. The prescription drug donepezil (Aricept), which works by slowing the progression of the disease by helping regulate healthy levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, has been shown in recent studies to be even more effective when combined with the drug memantine, which helps regulate another neurotransmitter, glutamate. Jones points out that Alzheimer’s patients on both these medications could receive even more support for their disease by adding natural supplements and good lifestyle choices.
If you are concerned about a loved one having Alzheimer’s disease, Jones recommends taking that person for a comprehensive evaluation by a physician experienced in dementia assessment. Says Jones, “The earlier in the progression of symptoms that the diagnosis can be made, the earlier treatment can begin.”
For information about Alzheimer’s Disease, please visit the Alzheimer’s Association Web site.
Writer: Sharon Peterson, Staff Writer
Contributor: Eric Jones, ND; Rebecca Logsdon, PhD
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