Did you know that Alzheimer's disease affects more than 5 million Americans and it is expected to triple in frequency in coming decades (The Plant-Based Solution)? Common factors that lead to Alzheimer's include family history, head trauma, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol. The possibility that diet plays a role in preventing Alzheimer's has definitely been considered.
What studies have been done?
More than twenty years ago, one of the earlier phases of the Adventist Health Study examined the tie between animal-based diets with dementia. The study looked at 272 subjects. Those who ate meat (including poultry and fish) were more than twice as likely to become demented as their vegetarian counterparts. Dementia was less common in the group who did not eat meat. For those in the plant-based group with an onset of dementia, the development was delayed (The Plant-Based Solution).
What does the science say?
There is a process in the body called methylation. This process regulates homocysteine, an amino acid that can cause arteries feeding the brain to malfunction. Bad arteries can lead to poor brain health, and vascular dementia is a major cause of dementia. A genetic defect in methylation is found in as many as 50% of people and is severe in about 10%. This genetic defect can lead to cells not functioning normally and to the accumulation of homocysteine. To keep your brain healthy you want to eat plenty of greens, which contain folate, a B vitamin. You also want to have plenty of B12 and B6, which are also involved in methylation. Keep your diet low in saturated fats to avoid raising cholesterol and injuring arteries. This will protect the brain and the heart (The Plant-Based Solution).
Your best prevention is to decrease your risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and sleep apnea. As your weight increases, your brain size decreases.
Dr. Neal Barnard partnered with the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine to develop guidelines to prevent Alzheimer's disease using diet and lifestyle—all based on scientific results. Here are the guidelines they created:
- Minimize your intake of saturated fats and trans fats by avoiding dairy products, meats, and certain oils (coconut and palm oils)
- Eat vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), fruits, and whole grains as primary staples of your diet
- Get vitamin E from seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains; vitamin E is the preferred antioxidant for brain health
- Consume a source of B12 daily; blood levels of B12 should be checked regularly
- Avoid iron and copper in over-the-counter supplements if a multivitamin is being used
- Consider minimizing exposure to aluminum by choosing cookware, antacids, baking powder, and other products that are free of aluminum
- Engage in aerobic exercise at least 40 minutes, 3 times a week; brisk walking can suffice
In addition to Dr. Barnard's list, I have a few additions I'd like to add! Here are some of my tips for prevention:
- Have a healthy social group (if your friends are obese there is a 150% chance you will be too)
- Live in a clean environment
- Get 8 hours of sleep
- Get your daily omega-3s
- Drink green tea instead of coffee
- Practice gratitude—write 3 things every day
- Manage your stress with meditation
The Blue Zones
Dan Buettner studied the places around the world—The Blue Zones—with the highest number of centenarians (people who live to 100+). Here are some of the common denominators he found between all groups, and these are additional guidelines to follow for longevity.
- They move naturally
- They all have gardens
- They always walk
- They practice daily sacred rituals that release chronic inflammation
- They take naps (35% less chance of heart attack)
- They have happy hour (about 2-4 glasses a day)
- They know their sense of purpose (if you have a sense of purpose your life expectancy is 8 years longer than if you don't know what you're doing in life)
- They are plant-based (beans are the cornerstone of the longevity diet and nuts are a universal snack; people who eat nuts live 2-5 years longer than those who don't)
- They eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper
- They pre-plate their food to reduce calories by 20-30%
- They invest in their spouses and children
- They belong to a spiritual group
Here are a few foods to eat on a regular basis to boost your brain health.
- Cocoa (for the flavonols)
- Antioxidants (especially avocados)
- Walnuts (they even look like brains—there's something to that!)
- Green tea
If we know the science, we can avoid unnecessary medication and procedures. "No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated by any other means" (Maimonides 1135-1204).
Ready to live a whole foods plant-based life?
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