Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia characterized by the buildup of proteins in the brain, affects an estimated 5.7 million Americans and stands as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Many factors contribute to a person's likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease, and while not all can be controlled, reducing risks such as high blood pressure and lack of exercise may help ward off the cognitive disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
While genetics may be to blame for a small percentage of cases, proper diet, exercise and sleep may help prevent the disease for most people, according to Harvard Medical School.
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Taking steps to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease can improve your chances of avoiding Alzheimer's disease, as conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol are considered to be factors in both, the Alzheimer's Association said, noting that 80 percent of individuals with Alzheimer's disease also have cardiovascular disease.
A Mediterranean diet, including fresh vegetables and fruits; whole grains; olive oil; nuts; legumes; fish; and moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy, may prevent or slow progression of the disease, with even partial adherence to such a diet showing benefits, said Dr. Gad Marshall, associate medical director of clinical trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, according to Harvard Medical School.
Along with the Mediterranean diet, the Alzheimer's Association also recommends the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which emphasizes vegetables, fruits and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
The MIND diet borrows from both the Mediterranean and DASH diets, with an added focus on foods that promote cognitive health, Everyday Health reported. Its name stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
It emphasizes nine foods:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
The MIND diet also urges people to avoid or limit red meat; butter and margarine; cheese; sweets; and fried or fast food.
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Food isn't the only way to stave off cognitive diseases.
Better sleep also can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and has been associated with the body's ability to clear proteins from the brain.
Experts also recommend a moderate aerobic workout for 30 minutes three or four times a week, which increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
Social connections, new learning and moderate amounts of alcohol also may improve your chances of preventing Alzheimer's disease, although more research is needed, Harvard Medical School said.
The Alzheimer's Association also recommends preventing head trauma through the use of seat belts, helmets and other safety precautions.
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