Most people haven’t heard of type 3 diabetes. But they probably know the condition by its more common name: Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s isn’t a normal part of aging. It causes symptoms such as memory loss, dramatic mood swings, an inability to focus, and problems controlling the body. These symptoms are the result of ongoing brain damage. Alzheimer’s causes proteins to become like twisted threads inside the brain’s nerve cells (neurofibrillary tangles). It also causes damaged protein deposits to build up plaque in the spaces between the brain’s nerve cells (called beta-amyloid plaques). There are about five FDA-approved medications to treat some symptoms related to language skills, memory, and some behavior problems. But there’s no medication-based cure, and the drug benefits are short-lived.
Researchers aren’t sure why some people get Alzheimer’s and others don’t. Evidence shows that having a family history of Alzheimer’s means a greater risk. Alzheimer’s is sometimes linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and sometimes, although more rarely, to having had a head injury earlier in life. The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in Toronto, Canada, in 2016 presented data showing that Alzheimer’s and dementia have more than 50 associated risk factors, including low thyroid levels, high homocysteine levels (an amino acid linked to heart attacks and strokes), and elevated blood fats.
Conventional medicine hasn’t offered much hope, but there’s actually a lot you can do to decrease your risk, or even reverse symptoms. “New research shows how combined natural strategies can powerfully reverse memory loss and cognitive decline,” says Wes Youngberg, Dr.P.H., a clinical nutritionist, lifestyle medicine specialist, a founding director and fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and author of Hello Healthy.
The numbers associated with Alzheimer’s are staggering: More than 5 million Americans live with it, and one in three elderly people die with it or another dementia. Every 66 seconds someone in the nation develops the disease, and projections estimate that by midcentury, someone will develop the disease every 33 seconds.
“That’s the current ‘status quo,’ but it’s within our power to impact those statistics,” says Youngberg. “By developing a personalized wellness plan to address the multiple factors associated with Alzheimer’s, we may dramatically decrease our risk. It’s different for each one of us,” Youngberg says in his lecture series, Unlocking the Code for Brain Healing: Natural Strategies for Preventing Alzheimer’s and Reversing Memory Loss.
Creating a personalized plan begins with understanding your exposome, which comprises of everything in your life—diet, activity, career, relationships, thoughts—all the things you’ve been exposed to and their impact on your genetic expression. To be completely certain of what you’re working with, Youngberg suggests having your DNA analyzed. “For about $199, you can order a saliva test from 23andMe.com and get results in about six to eight weeks,” Youngberg says. He strongly recommends seeing an expert in comprehensive lifestyle management who will meaningfully interpret the report you’ll receive about your DNA. They’ll help you gather further lab data (from tests such as glucose/insulin tolerance, cardiac/hs-CRP, and other specialized blood tests) and utilize this specific information into the most comprehensive dementia prevention and/or reversal plan for you.
Think about what you’re feeding your brain.
Minimizing sugar intake is great for your brain health, because eating lots of simple carbs spikes blood sugar and leads to inflammation. Eating low-glycemic, low-inflammatory foods helps control type 3 diabetes (aka Alzheimer’s), keeping insulin responses under control and reducing disease-beckoning inflammation.
Watch your waistline.
A recent study authored by David Merrill, M.D., Ph.D., at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), indicates that staying at a healthy weight helps ward off Alzheimer’s.
Stay on the move.
Exercise decreases your chance of getting Alzheimer’s by a whopping 50 percent, according to a 2016 study by the UCLA Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh. Aim to get really fit. “The best scientific evidence suggests at least 450 minutes of exercise per week,” writes James P. Watson, M.D., via his Agingsciences blog. That means exercising a little more than an hour a day.
A study of 800 men and women aged 75 and older showed that “those who were physically active, mentally active, or more socially engaged had a lower risk of developing dementia.” People who combined all of these activities were found to have the best protection. So stay connected with others: volunteer, make new friends, and participate in community activities.
Never stop learning.
Research shows that keeping active mentally seems to increase vitality and even generates new brain cells. Try playing games, reading, attending lectures, and learning new things.
Give your stomach—and your brain—a break every night.
Empower your brain to “eat up” problematic beta-amyloid proteins by avoiding food for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. That means skipping late-night snacks and meals—which is good for weight loss and general health, anyway. That time of fasting triggers autophagy, giving the brain a chance to self-clean. Failing to fast can turn off this brain-protecting activity.
Sleep on it.
Seven to eight hours of good sleep each night is extremely valuable. A study on mice published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging found that sleep-deprived mice developed dementia-related problems sooner than others. And researchers believe that poor sleep can trigger pathological processes that accelerate the disease. Sleep is also the time that the glymphatic system flushes cerebralspinal fluid through the brain’s tissues, removing waste through the circulatory system, where it is eliminated by the liver. Research by Jeffrey Iliff, Ph.D., and associates at the University of Rochester found that this removal of toxic waste during sleep lends protection against an unhealthy build up of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain.
Reconsider your vices.
Smoking negatively affects the blood vessels of the brain, and smokers are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as nonsmokers.
Drinking too much can also lead to problems, including Korsakoff syndrome, an alcohol-related dementia with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.
And if you’re addicted to the saltshaker? Salt can increase blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk of Alzheimer’s.
Michele Deppe writes about science-based health solutions from Seattle, Washington.