Globally, it is estimated that in 2015 around 47 million people were affected by dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease and this number could triple by 2050, placing a terrible burden on health systems and the families of people affected.
Dementia is the medical term used to describe brain damage that alters behavior, personality, and overall cognitive function. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is manifested by memory loss, difficulty performing certain simple tasks and increasingly strange behavior. Over time, the progression of the disease is accompanied by a marked deterioration in cognitive functions (impairments of language, visual recognition and integration of information) and, in more advanced stages, patients lose all interaction with the outside world until their death.
Prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
Until very recently, Alzheimer’s disease was considered to be the consequence of two main factors: aging and the presence of certain genes that predispose to developing the disease. These two factors do play a role: for example, it is well documented that people who have the ApoE4 variant are at higher risk of dementia, but this gene is only responsible for about 7% of Alzheimer’s cases and other factors are clearly at play. Even downside for aging: age is of course an important risk factor, but several recent observations nevertheless indicate that Alzheimer’s disease is not an inevitable consequence of aging and that many aspects of lifestyle can also greatly influence its progress.
This is great news, because it means that it is possible to significantly reduce the risk of suffering from this disease by changing your lifestyle.
The 9 habits to put in place to prevent Alzheimer’s disease
It is in this context that a group of 24 international experts recently published an update of the main factors that can reduce the risk of developing dementia in general, including Alzheimer’s disease. The rigorous analysis of the studies accumulated so far leads the authors to propose that the modification of nine main risk factors can significantly reduce the incidence of these diseases.
– Stop smoking. Smoking has a devastating effect on cardiovascular health, causing a decrease in oxygen supply to the brain and damaging neurons. Certain neurotoxins in tobacco also contribute to this damage.
– To exercise. Physical activity exerts a neuroprotective action due to an improvement of blood circulation in the brain as well as by stimulating the growth of neurons involved in memory processes.
– Maintain a healthy weight. Several studies show that obese people are at higher risk of dementia, a consequence of the negative impact of being overweight on chronic inflammation and oxidative stress which disrupt the whole body, including the brain.
– Control blood pressure. Hypertension creates mechanical stress on blood vessels which increases the risk of neurodegeneration and, consequently, dementia.
– Check blood sugar. People with diabetes are at higher risk of dementia because chronic hyperglycemia is very toxic to cells, including neurons.
– Treat depression. Depression affects the levels of several stress hormones as well as the structure of certain parts of the brain (hippocampus), which could accelerate the development of dementia.
– Maintain a social network. Social isolation and loneliness are important risk factors for hypertension, cardiovascular disease and depression, three conditions that have been linked to the development of dementias.
– Keep learning. Education creates what is called a “cognitive reserve” that maintains brain function despite deterioration of neurons.
– Make sure you hear well. It may seem surprising, but several studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between deafness and the risk of dementia. The mechanisms involved remain poorly understood, but it is likely that hearing stimulates intellectual functions and thus delays the deterioration of neurons. According to the researchers, the use of hearing aids by people who cannot hear well could help reduce this risk.
Turmeric, red wine and green tea against Alzheimer’s disease
It should be noted that this reduction in dementias using the lifestyle factors just listed is minimal and may even be more pronounced than reported here. Several more recent population studies suggest that the consumption of certain foods such as turmeric, red wine, cocoa or even green tea is associated with an even more marked reduction in the risk of cognitive decline and the inclusion of these foods in dietary habits could further increase our protection against dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Livingston G et al. Dementia prevention, intervention and care. In Lancet, July 20, 2017.
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