6 ways your diet can help you avoid Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating degenerative brain disorder that leads to problems with memory, cognition, and overall mental ability. The disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases in America. Alzheimer’s is an age-related disease that’s categorized by the slow deterioration of the mind over many years. One in nine people over the age of 65 currently lives with Alzheimer’s disease, and as many as one in three seniors die with some form of dementia.

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The most troubling aspect, however, is how the disease targets its victims. Its first signs are innocuous —  a forgotten word, face, or name — but it then slowly develops into the loss of personal history and culminates in compete helplessness and the need for full-time care.

Whether an individual develops Alzheimer’s is largely out of his/her control — the most reliable indicators are your age, your family history, and your genetics. That said, Alzheimer’s is still, above all, a disease of the mind. Therefore, building a diet around foods that have been found to benefit the brain is one way to proactively combat it.

The medical community is fighting feverishly to discover the origins of this mysterious and deadly disease, and new research continues to flow from universities and research hospitals. A 2015 study of 923 subjects between ages 58 to 98 found that the subjects who followed a diet that was rich in green leafy vegetables, berries, fish, whole grains, and olive oil, and that was also low in red meats, cheese, butter, and fast food, had lower rates of developing Alzheimer’s.

Here is a list of six ways that your diet can help you avoid Alzheimer’s disease.

Ginger, dark berries and olive oil
Foods like ginger, dark berries, and olive oil help protect and preserve the brain’s glial cells — essential for the health of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Glial cells outnumber nerve cells in the brain three to one, and they serve a range of neurological functions such as controlling the rate of nerve signals, providing a “scaffold” for aspects of neural development, and assisting in the rehabilitation from a neural injury. Glial cells are like the street sweepers of the brain; they take in diseased or damaged cells and remove them. However, recent research showed that when glial cells failed to release certain chemicals, the brain’s neurons committed “the biochemical version of suicide,” which leads to a loss of cognitive functioning. So do what you can to protect those glial cells.

Green tea
The polyphenols in green tea give the beverage its bitter taste, but these phytochemicals have also been found to “have an impact on cognitive deficits in individuals of advanced age.” The polyphenols from green tea are being used in brain-aging-related studies as potential neuroprotective agents in cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Salmon, trout and sardines
DHA and EPA are two types of omega-3 fatty acids that have been found to help prevent dementia. Omega-3 fatty acids are concentrated in the brain and are linked to memory and cognitive functioning, but the body can’t produce these essential nutrients on its own. Try to incorporate some fatty fish into your diet, or take a daily supplement of fish oil.

Small meals and complex carbohydrates
Doctors have yet to detect a direct link between Alzheimer’s and Type 2 diabetes, but there is substantial evidence that high blood sugar levels can hurt the brain. An imbalance of insulin can throw off the brain’s delicate chemistry, and the rise in blood sugar can lead to damaging internal inflammation. Eating small meals throughout the day helps keep your blood sugar levels balanced. To avoid further spikes, try to eliminate processed foods and refined carbohydrates like white rice, pasta, and tortillas, which quickly breakdown into simple sugars that raise blood-glucose levels.

Spinach, kale and asparagus
A study by Rush University found that seniors who ate at least one serving of leafy greens a day had the cognitive ability of someone 11 years younger. The secret behind the success of greens like spinach is their high vitamin K content. Vitamin K deficiency is common in elderly men and women, and the lack of this important nutrient has been thought to accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s disease. If you can’t get enough leafy greens in your diet, take a vitamin K supplement.

Unsaturated fats
Stick with unsaturated fats like those found in olive oil and nuts. Foods loaded with saturated fats, like butter and cheese, can be a detriment to cognitive functioning and memory. A study on rats measuring working memory found that the group that was fed a diet high in saturated fats made more working memory errors than the control group who were fed a diet supplemented with unsaturated fat.