More Aussies are battling Alzheimer’s disease than ever before, with rate projections showing no sign of slowing down. Luckily, there are a few lifestyle changes that can significantly lower your risk of developing this debilitating disease. Here are our top 4 ways to keep your cognitive health sharp.
Over the last dozen years, Aussie cases of Alzheimer’s have risen by 100 000, with a further 450 000 cases projected to hit by 2058. It turns out, our excessive consumption of sugar, alcohol and highly-processed goods shoulder a hefty portion of the blame – researchers suggest there may be a link between an inflammatory diet and the development of this disease. But before we get into that, let’s unpack the fundamentals of Alzheimer’s disease, including what it is and what causes it.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease which involves cognitive degeneration and the development of a host of memory and learning-related symptoms. These may include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty with problem solving
- Difficulty with tasks that were once simple
- Confusion around time and location
- Difficulty with understanding spatial relationships
- Difficulties with speaking and writing
Alzheimer’s is believed to be caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins in and around the brain cells. Proteins like amyloid and tau create plaque deposits, with the latter creating what are known as neurofibrillary tangles in our brain cells. This then disturbs the communication between our neurons, thereby setting the scene for cognitive degeneration. While there isn’t a certain answer for why all these changes happen, researchers have reason to believe chronic inflammation is one of the big contributors. One of the key sources of inflammation in our lives comes through our lifestyle choices – that’s why we’ll be taking a look at a few of the simple ways to reduce your risk for inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.
Smoking is a major contributor to cognitive decline, with the World Health Organisation suggesting it could be responsible for 14% of dementia cases across the globe. You’ve probably heard of all the deadly risks that come with smoking:
- Lung cancer
- Throat and mouth cancer
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
But did you know dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is another one of the many potential consequences of smoking? One study ranked smoking as the third largest modifiable risk factor for dementia, while another piece of research indicated that smokers had a 30% higher likelihood of developing dementia and a 40% higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. It’s worth noting that the above risks that come with smoking, like high blood pressure and strokes, are associated with a higher risk of developing dementia. The toxins in the smoke contribute to inflammation and result in oxidative stress in the body, which is one of the major reasons the habit can cause Alzheimer’s. So, there’s more than one reason to try to quit the smokes!
Watch your alcohol intake
While the occasional glass of red wine is safe – and some studies show its antioxidant content may even provide anti-inflammatory benefits – you probably won’t want to be throwing back alcoholic beverages on the regular. Over time, excess consumption can damage your brain cells, leaving you with a heavily reduced amount of white matter in the brain – this white matter plays an essential role in signal transmission. Without an adequate volume of this matter, we become vulnerable to a number of brain-related issues. The government recommends consuming no more than 10 standard drinks per week, while noting that the fewer drinks you have, the lower your risk of disease will be.
Enjoy a balanced diet
Consuming a well-balanced, anti-inflammatory diet is one of the simplest ways to reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. You’ll want to opt for low-sugar, minimally-processed foods with nutrients that boost brain health. These will include the following:
Fruit and veggies: Fresh produce is loaded with fibre, vitamins and minerals to keep inflammation at bay – leafy greens, for instance, are rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants which have been proven to prevent oxidative stress, which is a known contributor to the development of Alzheimer’s.
Whole grains: Minimally-processed whole grains tend to be far more nutrient dense than their processed counterparts. Their fibre content aids gut health and reduces the risk of chronic inflammation, thereby warding off cognitive decline.
Nuts and seeds: The healthy fats, magnesium and B vitamins in nuts and seeds are known brain-boosters, so be sure to enjoy a handful every now and again. 5 serves per week is the general recommendation, and it could include cashews, hemp seeds, pistachios, peanuts and walnuts. The latter is loaded with omega 3s, another inflammation-fighting nutrient.
Healthy fats: Omega 3s and other fatty acids play a major role in keeping our gut healthy and preventing inflammation. In particular, linoleic acid and monounsaturated fats, both of which are healthy fats which keep our body functioning to full capacity. In fact, researchers say linoleic acids helps us lose weight – but it’s the monounsaturated fats that are known for fighting inflammation. These fats not only reduce our risk of cognitive decline, but help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, along with lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Fermented foods: These are essential for keeping our gut microbiome in order – the good bacteria in fermented foods helps tip the balance in our favour, thereby reducing our risk for infection and inflammation. These could include:
- Miso, tempeh, natto
- Yoghurt, kefir
- Sauerkraut, kimchi
Avoid the sugar
Inflammation is one of the major contributors to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and it just so happens that the ubiquitous white stuff is highly inflammatory. That’s right, our collective sugar habits are not only driving us to obesity, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, but they also put cognitive decline on the map too.
When we overdo it with the sugar, we throw our microbiome out of whack. Our microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes which are responsible for our overall health. Excess sugar causes negative changes to the bacteria populations, with research finding high-sugar diets can lower microbial diversity. This is because it creates higher levels of Proteobacteria, which is an indicator of an unbalanced microbiome. The result? Inflammation and disease. So, look out for excess sugars in the following foods:
- Highly-processed bread, cereal and muesli bars
- Snacks like chips and crackers
- Commercial baked goods
- Flavoured yoghurt and ice cream
- Fast food
- Sauces like tomato, mustard and mayo
Keen for more health and nutrition tips? We’re here to help. Join us for the 8-Week Program where we’ll be quitting sugar and turning our health dreams into a reality. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:
- 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
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