Today is World Alzheimer’s Day. Studies suggest that keeping the brain active and taking certain dietary precautions can help keep the degenerative disease at bay

Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of dementia in people over the age of 65. It very rarely occurs before the age of 40, but the susceptibility increases with age.

The causes of this disease still remain unknown. The characteristic feature of this disease is abnormal deposits of a protein called beta amyloid in the brain, which leads to a progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brain.

Risk factors

Research claims that people who have ‘apolipoprotein E’ in their blood are likely to develop this disease. Researchers theorise that chromosomal and genetic factors may influence its onset in some cases. Women are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease than men. Studies show that women who have taken oestrogen-progesterone therapy had a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s than the others. Thyroid related complications are also linked to this disease.

Studies have shown that a high level of homocysteine levels in healthy adults may lead to Alzheimer’s.

Experts are unable to pinpoint any specific dietary link which increases the chance of Alzheimer’s. But they remain sceptical about the role of aluminium, owing to its retention power in the affected brain. People who have high cholesterol and high blood pressure are also at a high risk of getting Alzheimer’s.

Dietary management

Medical proof has indicate that the risk of Alzheimer’s can reduce up to 50 per cent through proper dietary management. A balanced diet, which is rich in protective foods, will help keeping the disease at bay. As far as possible, avoid any kind of artificial food supplements.

Folate, Vitamin B6 and B12 are the nutrients that help regulate homocysteine (a non-protein amino acid) levels in people. Leafy vegetables, citrus fruit juices, liver, cooked legumes, nuts and enriched breads and cereals are excellent sources of folate. For vitamin B12, try to include fish, poultry, lean meat and dairy products in the daily diet. All non- vegetarian foods, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, beans and leafy greens are some of the ideal sources of vitamin B6.

Antioxidants mop up free radicals, thus reducing Alzheimer’s risk. Phytochemicals like choline and lecithin may help forestall symptoms, so try to include egg yolks, organ meats, soy products, peanuts, wheat germ, whole grain which are excellent dietary sources of choline and lecithine. The brain is rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega–3 fatty acid that is abundant in fish. Low levels of this fat have been linked with age–related Alzheimer’s. It is highly recommended that fish (especially fatty fishes like sardine, mackerel, herring, salmon etc.) should be eaten at least thrice a week. Fish is excellent for the heart and the brain, too.

It is believed that what is good for your heart is good for your brain too.

Say no to alcohol

It’s a good idea to say no to alcohol because even in small amounts it may cause gradual destruction of your brain cells thus accelerating the progression of Alzheimer’s. Restrict use of antacids containing aluminium. Care must also be taken in using drinking water in areas where aluminium compounds are used for treating water.

Researchers say it is best to avoid using aluminium cookware, which allow the metal to directly enter the body.

Regular exercise

Regular exercise and rest always keep you fit and alert. Be active with your brain, do memory games, puzzles, visits, education etc. All these are useful for keeping your memory sharp and making you less prone to degenerative diseases of the brain.

(The author is a nutritionist)

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