Eat Well to Be Well: Choice foods aid in fight against Alzheimer’s

My mother’s life was overtaken by this disease which eventually ended it. Alzheimer’s – the dreaded word no family wants to hear. And now a new study indicates this disease may actually be the third leading cause of death in the United States, placing it just below heart disease and cancer.

Originally the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attributed 84,000 deaths in 2010 to Alzheimer’s but now the number is believed to be 503,400 among people 75 and older. The study from the American Academy of Neurology suggests death certificates underestimate the impact of Alzheimer’s on death in older people.

It is estimated more than 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s. As the baby boom generation ages, the number is expected to triple by 2050. The financial burden associated with Alzheimer’s for 2013 was $210 billion; by 2050, it will rise to an astronomical $1.2 trillion. The emotional burden for the patient and their family is enormous and gut-wrenching. There are currently only a few drug treatments available to help possibly slow down cognitive and behavioral issues, but there is no cure in sight. This always fatal disease is a sleeping giant that deserves more attention and funding.

Other than the limited medications available once you’re diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, is there anything else a person can do to possibly slow down or prevent this all-consuming disease? Current research suggests that adopting a brain-healthy diet, a diet that encourages good blood flow to the brain, plays an important role in keeping your brain sharp and thinking clearly. If you combine a brain-healthy diet with physical and mental activity, along with social interaction, this can boost your brain power even more.

Certain foods have been associated with improving better cognitive function, memory and alertness.

Eat your greens. We’ve all been told “eat your vegetables.” And for good 032314-Vegetables_1reason. Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, bok choy and Brussels sprouts and other greens such as spinach and kale are rich sources of vitamins C and E and folate. Vitamins C and E have been found to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s since they help rid free radicals, compounds harmful to the brain. Individuals with low folate levels appear to be at a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

If you’re not used to eating these foods, start off slowly and build up to where you are eating at least one (or more) each day. Fill up your fruit bowl. Dark-skinned fruit are the real stars when it comes to boosting memory. This is a perfect time of year to look for berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and also cherries, whether fresh, frozen or dried. Loaded with vitamin C, potassium and a flavonoid called anthocyanin, which may improve memory function, these flavorful fruits can be added to your daily diet in numerous ways; add to cereal, grab a handful for a snack, mix with yogurt or blend into a smoothie.

Make fish your friend. Eating at least 2-3 fish meals a week is an excellent way to improve your intake of the important032314-Salmon omega-3 fatty acids. Well known for its essential role in keeping your brain functioning efficiently, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the predominant fatty acid in the brain. The more you consume omega-3 fatty acids containing DHA, the better off your brain will be. Cold water fish are best known for providing omega-3 fatty acids. Include salmon, tuna, halibut and mackerel, fresh or canned, at your next meal.

Be a little nutty. Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios, are packed with the important omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, known for their roles in protecting the brain. However, this does not mean you can eat handful after handful throughout the day. Because of their high fat content, they are loaded with calories and eating too many will lead to weight gain. A small handful, about 1/3 cup, added to salads, yogurt, cereals or eaten alone, will improve brain power over time.

032314-grapesDown a glass of Concord grape juice. Concord grape juice contains the heart-healthy polyphenols that improves communication between brain cells. A study at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine tested 12 adults with declining memory by giving them either Concord grape juice or a placebo for 3 months. Researchers found that the adults who drank the grape juice had markedly improved spatial memory and verbal learning skills.

Make time for turmeric. Turmeric is a plant of the ginger family. It is the main spice found in curry, giving it its distinctive flavor and it’s also used to color mustard. A compound called curcumin is found in turmeric and is believed to inhibit Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, found turmeric to have several positive affects in staving off Alzheimer’s. It decreases inflammation in the body, helps improve blood flow to the brain by lowering cholesterol levels that can clog arteries and blocks the formation of beta amyloid plaque. Add this important spice to soup, meatloaf, chili, or salads to reap its many benefits.

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Watch your weight. Putting on the pounds is not a good idea in general. But it really becomes a problem in increasing
the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. A long-term study of 1,500 adults found those that were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia in later life.  Gaining weight also increases your chances of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol which increases the risk of dementia by six times.

Additional research is the key to unlocking the proper treatment and prevention of this devastating disease. In the meantime, there are things we can do today to decrease our chance of developing Alzheimer’s. Become proactive by improving your dietary habits, avoid weight gain, moving your body and enjoy an active social life. Someday, let’s hope Alzheimer’s will become just a distant memory.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or to make a donation, visit the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org, or for help call the 24/7 Helpline number 800-272-3900.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].

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