They have good reason to worry. There are currently about 5 million people in the US with Alzheimer’s, and it claims the lives of 500,000 people each year. Here in Washington there are about 100,000 people with the disease. Women outnumber men with Alzheimer’s almost 2 to 1.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease rises each year. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million, if something isn’t done to prevent it.
Alzheimer’s may also be the most expensive disease in America. In 2014, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s will total an estimated $214 billion each year. The price tag rises each year. Alzheimer’s will cost an estimated $1.2 trillion by 2050.
Many doctors consider the brain the most complicated and miraculous organ in the body. A healthy brain typically contains 100 billion brain cells and each brain cells interacts with several others this results in about 100 trillion connections!
Just as the brain is complex so Alzheimer’s Disease is as well. It interferes with the operation of the brain cells and their interconnections. Part of the way it does this is by causing plaque-like formations made up of a protein called Beta Amyloid.
Since genetics accounts for only about 5% of cases, scientists are looking hard for the cause or causes of the disease and how to prevent it, especially with lifestyle changes including diet.
According to the most current research, a brain-healthy diet is one that reduces the risk factors of Alzheimer’s such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes.
As we know, a healthy vegetarian diet reduces the risks of all these diseases. Therefore, the best diet for preventing Alzheimer’s disease is a vegetarian diet made up of vegetables, whole grains, legumes such as beans, peas and lentils, plus nuts and fruits, which are the most effective foods for reducing the risk of all these diseases.
In fact, one study showed that vegetarians had only half the risk of Alzheimer’s compared with those who were following a meat-centered diet but had an otherwise healthy lifestyle, and long time vegetarians had only one third the risk.
While there are several aspects of a vegetarian diet that may be at work here, recent research has focused one in particular: cholesterol. Medical studies show that even mildly elevated cholesterol significantly raises the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Cholesterol that’s elevated in mid-life increases the risk of getting the disease in the senior years.
In just the past few months, scientists seem to have discovered just how cholesterol is connected to Alzheimer’s Disease. The latest study showed that “unhealthy patterns of cholesterol could be directly causing the higher levels of amyloid known to contribute to Alzheimer’s, in the same way that such patterns promote heart disease.” said Bruce Reed, lead study author and associate director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. What impressed us about this study is that it was done on living people’s brains and confirmed the studies done on lab specimens.
Other studies have highlighted the role of the phytonutrients found in plant foods in keeping the brain healthy. Phytonutrients are special substances only found in plant foods. They provide additional health benefits along with other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber.
So now we know that what’s good for the heart is good for the mind. It seems that the poets were right all along!
Additional tips on avoiding Alzheimer’s include taking vitamin B12 supplements, stopping smoking, drinking only very modest amounts of alcohol, going for walks and keeping your brain active by following your interests and hobbies.