This informative post was written by Goji Man (a.k.a. Simon Hammett), who is from the UK and is currently studying a Masters in Food, Nutrition & Health. He runs a blog called gojimannutrition.com which focuses on plant based nutrition and health which I encourage you to check out! You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Alzheimers disease (AD) affects millions of people around the world. It is the most common type of dementia and accounts for approximately 60-80% of all cases (in 2015 there were an estimated 9.9 million new cases of dementia worldwide and this number is rising annually).
AD is a progressive and degenerative disease that attacks and damages the brain. Symptoms include memory problems (particularly short-term), agitation, aggression and confusion. It is difficult for the person to remember names, events, places and communication can become impaired. The disease is very distressing for both the individual and their family.
The surprise about AD is that it can actually be prevented and even reversed (to some degree) in many cases. Admittedly genetics do play a part in the formation of the disease for some people. For example, we know that individuals who have a mutation in the MTHFD1L gene have double the chance of developing AD during their lifetime. That being said, if we eat a healthy diet and change our lifestyles we can change which genes are expressed and inevitably stack the cards in our favour. This holds true even for patients who have already developed the disease.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
There are many theories for what causes AD. One of the most widely accepted theories is metal toxicity (aluminium and mercury). For example, a study during the 1980’s that examined the brains of Canadian gold miners found that all had developed advanced cognition problems. This demonstrated a clear cause and effect between aluminium and memory loss.
Obviously we know that the average person won’t be exposed to such high levels of toxic metals on a daily basis, but lots of research today shows a significant imbalance of toxic metals in the brains of AD patients. This is particularly true for mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin known to accumulate in the part of the brain responsible for memory, and is most prominent in individuals with early-onset AD.
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Homocysteine is another crucial factor for understanding why AD develops in many people. Homocysteine is a byproduct created during the metabolism of the protein cysteine. High levels of homocysteine over a long period dramatically increases your chances of developing AD, as well as many other diseases such as heart disease, strokes and cancer.
In 2009, the University of Gothenburg undertook a study on Swedish women and found that those who had the highest levels of homocysteine had almost double the chance of developing AD. This means that the higher the level of homocysteine in the body, the greater the damage is to the brain. But remember, while it is easy to accumulate high levels of homocysteine in the body, it is also just as easy to remove it if you provide your body with sufficient levels of vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid.
While toxic metals and homocysteine are among the biggest risk factors for developing AD, it should also be noted that many other factors contribute to the development of the disease. For example, the stress hormone cortisol can also have massively damaging impacts on the brain. We also know that the diets responsible for the formation of high levels of free radicals in the body are also significant contributors to the development of the disease.
If you are worried about AD because it runs in your family, or you or someone in your family has already developed the disease, then check out the tips below to find out how you can prevent, halt or even reverse the disease.
Alzheimer’s Diet Guidelines
Foods To Avoid
- Avoid all refined grains such as white rice, white bread and pasta. These types of grains will have had a large amount of their nutrients removed during the manufacturing process. Remember, if these types of grains have had their B-vitamins and folic acid removed, then it will allow homocysteine levels to rise. (B12 is only available in these products when fortified.)
- Avoid foods that contain significant traces of aluminium. Some of the worst culprits are refined chocolate, processed cheeses, pickles, bubble gum, baking powder, and many store-bought desserts.
- Avoid food additives and preservatives. The two main preservatives to avoid are MSG and aspartame – both of which are known neurotoxins.
- Avoid supermarket foods that are packaged in aluminium. These foods are often cooked in the packaging which can increase the absorption into the food.
- Avoid refined sugars, caffeine and alcohol. All of these have the potential to massively deplete essential nutrients in the body and can also alter and interfere with brain function. Sugar is of particular importance as it increases beta-amyloid deposits on the brain – one of the main characteristics of those suffering with AD.
Foods To Eat
- Lets start with the big one. Omega 3. Essential fatty acids are essential for brain health and reducing inflammation in the body. Brain inflammation is a common characteristic of AD. If you eat meat then you can get good quantities of omega 3 from salmon, mackerel and sardines (avoid tin packaged fish). If you are vegan, flax seeds, nuts and marine phytoplankton are great alternatives.
- People who develop or already have AD tend to have low levels of the nutrient acetylcholine (essential for brain health). You can boost levels in the body by regularly eating oats, cabbage, soya beans and cauliflower.
- People with AD also tend to have low levels of Vitamin C and carotenes. Regularly consume oranges, lemons, peppers, sweet potatoes and kale to increase them. Any colourful fruit or vegetable is what you’re looking for… Remember to “eat the rainbow!”
- Regularly eat avocados as they are high in vitamin E which is essential for brain health.
- Eat foods everyday that are rich in antioxidants like blueberries, blackberries, prunes, pomegranates, dark leafy greens and dark chocolate (but only over 90% cocoa).
- Sage has been shown to improve memory function because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It also inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine (avoid if pregnant though as it stimulates the uterus).
- Eat lots of coriander. It makes your food taste great and it also helps remove toxic metals from the body.
- Integrate nori seaweed into your diet instead of salt, it’s also great for removing toxic metals.
- Lastly, try adding fresh ginger and rosemary to your diet for their anti-inflammatory effects and properties.
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