Alzheimer’s disease is too often thought of as an inevitable part of aging, but in fact that's a myth and a handful of lifestyle changes and healthy behaviors can help prevent or even reverse it, a top expert says.
“You can accelerate your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, delay it, or even make changes that will help reverse it, depending on your behavior,” says Dr. Daniel Amen, a renowned psychiatrist and author of several bestsellers including “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.”
"These behaviors include preventing head injuries, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, and other factors.”
Even people who inherit the genetic mutation that drastically increases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease can forestall it by following these recommendations, says Amen.
“Genetics loads the gun, but it is behavior that pulls the trigger, so those people have to double down on prevention,” he says.
Amen bases his findings on his library of over 120,000 brain scans, from which he can deduce changes that signal brain damage. Working with such scans over three decades has led him to conclude the following: “You are not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better."
Here are Amen’s top seven ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease:
• Stay lean. Don’t become overweight because excess fat isn’t innocuous. It produces inflammatory cytokines that damage every organ in your body, including your brain. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the biggest brain drain in our country.
• Eliminate sugar. When it comes to the brain, sugar is public enemy No. 1. Sugar is pro-inflammatory, increases erratic brain-cell firings and is addictive. Avoid it at all costs.
• Exercise daily. Exercise is the best way to increase all your feel-good neurotransmitters and research also finds it increases the brain’s gray matter as well. No prescription drug has ever been able to grow your brain like exercise does. The secret to increasing exercise is to do what you love, whether it's running, swimming, biking, sports or even table tennis, which increases hand-eye coordination.
• Get plenty of sleep. “Your brain is the most oxygen-hungry organ in your body. When you stop breathing, it suffocates and kills brain cells,” he notes. "Sleep apnea (a common sleep disorder) triples the risk of dementia. So if you snore loudly, get evaluated for sleep apnea and treated.
• Eliminate or minimize alcohol use. “Stop thinking of alcohol as healthy – it’s not. Alcohol kills brain cells," Amen says. “Don’t drink alcohol and, if you do, drink it minimally, two or three drinks a week, not a day.”
• Take a multivitamin daily. “If we all ate fresh, organic foods everyday, we would get the nutrients we need, but we don’t – we skip meals and eat sugar-laden, processed foods,” he says. “No wonder the CDC finds Americans are dangerously low in many nutrients, including vitamins D and E and magnesium. In addition, take 1,000-2,000 mg of fish oil daily.”
• Eat more healthy fats. “Sixty percent of the solid weight of your brain is fat, and eating fat is essential to brain health, especially foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts, avocados, olive oil, and even dark chocolate, without any additives, like sugar or dairy,” Amen says. “Eating such foods before taking your vitamins helps your body absorb them better.”
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