The answer is still “we don’t know,” but we’re getting closer.
Alzheimer’s is not normal in the course of aging, and it’s more than “a decline in memory.” People suffering from Alzheimer’s, through progressive destruction of brain cells, lose the ability to think, reason, learn and communicate, and also undergo personality changes. For the ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s go here: http://www.alz.org/AboutAD/10Signs.htm . Alzheimer’s is eventually fatal because the person cannot move or swallow.
Although around 12 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s, and 4-4.5 million in the US, research in this field is still new and not enough is known about either prevention or cure. Much of the research “suggests” but is not conclusive.
The biggest risk factor is aging, with about 50% of people over 85 years of age having Alzlheimer’s in the US. According to some sources, there’s evidence it has the same risk factors as for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated homocysteine, a protein building block.
In an article called “Homocysteine is a Strong Risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease,” (New England Journal of Medicine, 2002 Feb 14; 346:476-483), researchers concluded that “an increased homocysteine level is a strong, independent risk factor for the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
According to research done by Martha Clare Morris, ScD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, Chicago, Illinois, lots of vitamin E through food intake, not supplements is helpful. ( www.medscape.com) while another study (http://www.docguide.com/news/content.nsf/news/8525697700573E1885256C00004A766D ) suggests that both food intake and supplements of vitamin E is helpful.
Foods high in vitamin E are wheat germ, almonds, vegetable oils, margarine, and seeds (especially sunflower seeds).
1 T. of wheat germ provides 34.6 mg. of vitamin E, ½ cup of chocolate covered almonds, 14.3 mg., 1 T. corn oil, 11-14 mg., 1 T. soybean oil, 8.8-14 mg.
According to the Almond Board of California, just one ounce of almonds provides more than 35% of the daily value of vitamin E.
According to studies reported in www.medscape.com, high intake of saturated fat doubles the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and moderate intake of trans fat increases the risk by 2-3 times. Lower risk is associated with high intake of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. However there have been inconsistent findings, with another study finding no influence from high ingestion of polyunsaturated fats.
FISH AND n-3 FATTY ACIDS
There is some evidence that dietary intake of fish and n-3 fatty acids can protect against Alzheimer’s but again, no causal association has been established.
Assuming that vitamin E and n-3 fatty acids and unhydrogenated, unsaturated fats help, your best bet would be to eat plenty of oil-based salad dressings, nuts, seeds, fish, mayonnaise, and eggs.
If you love curry like I do, this information will be welcome. One of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s appears in Indian villages, with only 1% of people 65 and older having the condition.
A recent study suggests that the reason might be a diet high in curcumin, a compound found in turmeric which is used in curry, which has long been used as an herbal treatment in that country. Researchers investigating this link will also be looking at rosemary and ginger, also high in the Indian diet, because their structure is similar to curcumin. [Source: “The Curry Spice Curcumin Reduces Oxidative Damage and Amyloid Pathology in an Alzheimer Transgenic Mouse,” Lim, Chuet al.]
Another link in the chain may be testosterone levels. Dr. Sozos Ch. Papasozomenos and Dr. Alikunju Shanavas, from the University of Texas-Houston Medical School conclude from their studies that “testosterone given alone to aging men and given combined with 17-beta-estradiol to postmenopausal women would probably prove beneficial in preventing and/or treating Alzheimer’s disease.” [Reported in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.] However, the case for hormones for postmenopausal women is far from settled and not at all clear.
Another possibility is lithium. This long-standing treatment for bipolar disorder has worked as a preventative with mice, and may be useful for humans, though the side-effects are high, and it doesn’t help people who already have Alzheimer’s. [Source: Nature, 2003]
WEIGHT, WOMEN & ALZHEIMER’S
Researchers have also found a strong relationship in women between being overweight at age 70 and developing Alzheimer’s 10-18 years later, although being overweight doesn’t appear to effect men and Alzheimer’s. (http://www.stopgettingsick.com/Conditions/condition_template.cfm/6880/24/1 )
USE IT OR LOSE IT
Studies also suggest that keeping mentally active can ward off Alzheimer’s [New England Journal of Medicine]. Oddly physical activity had no positive preventive effect except in the case of dancing. Researchers speculated that could be because music engages the mind. ( http://www.stopgettingsick.com/Conditions/condition_template.cfm/6817/24/1 )
These are just a few of the latest “suggestions.” So little is known for sure, and we hope research continues. In the meantime, we do hear the same things over and over – good diet, exercise, and staying mentally active.
Resource: The Alzheimer’s Association, http://www.alz.org
For medical advice, consult your personal healthcare professional.