How to Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Alzheimer’s and dementia affect many families with no known cure for the debilitating condition. The disease does take its toll, as those we know become shells of their former selves.  The brain’s cognitive functions begin to slow and eventually stop altogether.  There is no one indication as to who is susceptible to developing dementia. Genetics and lifestyle choices such as poor diet, smoking and remaining sedentary play a role.

The best way to guard against dementia is to reduce the risk. Preventive measures such as diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle choices have shown to help minimize the risks associated with the disease. The bigger question is which diet is right, one low in saturated fats, or one high in saturated fats.

A recent study conducted by RUSH University in Chicago has shown that the new MIND diet, a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Mediterranean DASH intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) will help reduce the risks by 35 to 50 percent even if it’s not strictly followed.  The diet is comprised

Dementia Alzheimers
Dementia Alzheimers

of 10 brain healthy recommended food groups that include green leafy vegetables, and an array of other vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, seafood, olive oil and a glass of wine.  The diet doesn’t eliminate meat; rather it cuts back on red meat significantly, along with butter, margarine and cheese due to their high saturated fat. Sweets, fried and fatty foods are discouraged as well.

While the MIND diet suggests limiting high saturated fats, it seems there is a bit of dissent regarding saturated fats being bad for you.  Saturated fats do have macronutrients that man has consumed for thousands of years.  We are consuming more and more sugar and simple carbs than we were back in the days our grandparents.  So the question becomes are saturated fats the problem, or could it be something else.

A study printed in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests the issue is with the number of calories we get from carbohydrates verses calories from fats and proteins.  The study found that participants who ate a diet high in calories derived from carbohydrates and low in caloric intake of fats and proteins had more of an impact on cognitive impairment.  While those that ate a diet higher in fats and proteins had a lower risk developing dementia symptoms.  The study does not specifically single out saturated fats, but for the sake of argument let’s assume the study was focused on healthy fats with macronutrients found in saturated fats rather than trans-fats that are not recommended.

Honestly, I think the benefit or detriment of saturated fats is still up for debate with the two schools of thought evenly divided on the subject.

Another study I came across suggested that saturated fats rob the brain of a key chemical called apolipoprotein E or Apo E for short. This chemical helps clear out the amyloid beta proteins. The study published in JAMA Neurology found that the people who ate a high fat high sugar diet had less of the ApoE in their systems that allowed for increased levels of the amyloid beta proteins. The errant proteins if not effectively cleared from the brain form plaques similar to the kind found on the brains of Alzheimer patients.

Then, considering that the brain is 60% fat it makes sense that to function properly it needs fats to repair and rejuvenate.  The caveat here is that it needs to be healthy fats like DHA, Omega 3 fatty acids and saturated fats.

We could convolute the argument even more and look at saturated fats and their role in heart health, but that’s another post entirely.  The one common opinion is that a diet high in simple carbs and sugars is a bad idea.  As for saturated fats, I’ll let you decide the best course of action.

Alzheimers, as with some diseases, carries a genetic risk, so in the end you may not be able to reduce your chances. That being said, it is still a smart idea to quit smoking, if you smoke. Keep your body weight within a normal range and treat high blood pressure if it is an issue.  Maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat a balanced diet of healthy fats and complex carbs. Exercising the brain also helps. Take a class; learn a language, or a new skill all of which help the cognitive abilities of the brain to stay sharp.

Even though it’s suggested these changes help reduce the chances of dementia without considering individual genetics, a healthy lifestyle still wards off a host of other diseases such diabetes, obesity and heart disease.