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Nutrition Research on Alzheimer's Disease and Brain Health

Alzheimer’s Disease is a debilitating disease that affects millions. While knowledge about this disease is rapidly expanding, to date there is no cure for the disease, nor is there a treatment that has been proven to prevent or delay onset of this disease. The major risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease are not alterable, namely advancing age and genetic make-up.

However, though there is no ‘magic bullet’ that will prevent Alzheimer’s disease, maintaining good health habits might reduce your risk of one day developing the disease. The National Institute on Aging suggests the following actions:

Engage in intellectually stimulating activities
Keep those neurons active! Research has documented that engaging in intellectually stimulating activities is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Investigators followed 700 participants in the Religious Orders Study for 4 years. They found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease was approximately 47 percent lower in individuals who frequently engaged in intellectually stimulating activities such as playing puzzle games and reading newspapers compared to those who did these activities infrequently. Lifelong learning has also been shown to be of benefit.

Exercise regularly
Regular exercise increases circulation, including circulation to the brain. In addition, exercise can help reduce the risk for high blood pressure and diabetes, diseases known to accelerate atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

If you have diabetes, keep it well controlled
and maintain a healthy blood pressure level

Disorders that impact the blood vessels and thus the blood flow to the brain can reduce the oxygen supply to the brain. This has the potential to adversely affect brain cells which are crucial to memory, among other things.
Research is ongoing on other potential means by which diabetes may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Maintain a healthy cholesterol level
Recent research suggests a connection between Alzheimer’s Disease and high blood cholesterol levels.

Lower homocysteine level (if elevated)
Homocysteine is an amino acid (a natural building block of protein). High levels of homocysteine have been associated with an elevated risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. The National Institute on Aging has funded studies in mice which showed that high levels of homocysteine can destroy neurons. The good news is that blood homocysteine levels can be reduced simply by increasing the intake of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12. These inexpensive nutritional supplements can be found in any grocery store in the vitamin section.

Studies are ongoing regarding Gingko biloba’s potential impact on Alzheimer’s Disease. Different studies have yielded different results, but there are large studies underway, so stay tuned.
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