Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is a complex one as highlighted in Operation Transformation and while the exact cause remains unknown, there are many risk factors as nutritionist Mags Carey told RTÉ LifeStyle.
We know that there is a link between heart disease and AD – the brain needs a good blood supply containing oxygen in order for it to work effectively.
Heart disease limits this supply, which is thought to compromise brain function. Making sure our cholesterol and blood pressure are controlled is key to our general wellbeing anyway and now there’s an extra incentive to keep it in check.
The Mediterranean diet has long since been talked about as the key to a healthy heart and we can draw a lot from this lifestyle – switching to a more plant-based diet, rich in fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, legumes and low in saturated fat will keep your heart ticking over nicely!
This diet is also naturally high in antioxidants, which help to mop-up any nasty free radicals that can accumulate in our bodies and damage our nerve cells.
Resveratrol, found in red wine and dark chocolate, has been shown to have a particular anti-inflammatory effect on the brain that can help prevent AD – finally an upside to enjoying a glass of wine* and a bit of choccie!
High levels of a homocysteine, an amino acid that can be detected in your blood – have also been linked to heart disease and AD.
It is thought that you are twice as likely to suffer from AD if you have increased homocysteine levels.
A diet high in b vitamins like whole grains, green vegetables and beans will help keep your homocysteine level low.
Type 2 diabetes and obesity are also thought to be risk factors for AD. High levels of blood glucose and insulin are thought to damage the nerve cells in the brain that can lead to a deterioration in its function. So maintaining a healthy weight and keeping blood sugar levels in check can offer further protection.
Our plant-based diet also works here – including complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, quinoa, millet etc. that offer a slow release of energy and keep blood sugar stable.
These grains also have the added benefit of being naturally gluten free, which should be limited in any brain-friendly diet.
A diet rich in Omega 3 essential fatty acids such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, can help to feed our brain cells, keep our blood pressure low and help with overall brain health – it really is a no brainer!
There has been much talk about the effects of heavy metals, and in particular aluminium, on the brain and its link to AD in particular.
While this has not been widely accepted, one line of thought on this is that it is poor detoxification in the body that leads to its inability to effectively remove these heavy metals.
Again, our plant-based, whole food diet can come to the rescue here, as it doesn’t tax our bodies and allows our liver to function as it should.
Avoiding processed foods, alcohol and sugar will also ease the burden on our bodies. You could also switch from tin-foil to parchment paper for cooking.
As well as diet - regular exercise and keeping the brain active through lots of mental and social stimulation can give the brain the workout that it needs to keep firing effectively.
So there really is no need to feel helpless - take control of your health and grab yourself some brain boosting foods today!