By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
February 19, 2016
- Better predictor of Alzheimer’s than forgetfulness
- Try this at-home test to access your risk
- Three ways to beat memory problems
When you’re in your 30’s or 40’s and forget a few names or appointments, it’s easy to dismiss. After all, you’re busy. And it’s not hard to imagine that a few things are going to “leak out of your brain” every now and then.
When it happens in your 50’s, you start wondering if it’s a sign of early dementia. So you make a commitment to start keeping better track of things.
But by the time you hit 60’s and 70’s those moments of forgetfulness can become worrisome. It’s hard not to speculate if Alzheimer’s disease in your future.
Well, these little memory blips don’t necessarily mean you’re on your way to memory loss. In fact, there’s another telltale sign that may be an even better predictor.
It’s very unique. And it doesn’t sound very scientific. But if you have a hard time smelling certain odors, it can indicate a high risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.
Part of it has to do with the neurotransmitters in your brain. You see, the same ones that affect your sense of smell are also connected to neurodegenerative diseases. And this connection can lead to problems down the road.
For example, if you have problems detecting odors, you could have reduced volume in your hippocampus. This part of the brain helps turn your short-term memories into ones that are long-term.
You could also have a higher burden of amyloid plaque. Maybe even a thinner entorhinal cortex – which plays a role when it comes to forming and consolidating our memories.
Even worse, an inability to identify common odors is associated with a much greater likelihood of developing cognitive problems over the next five years.
Now, you can do a “mini-sniff-test” at home. Just put on a blindfold. Then have your spouse, a friend or family member hold food items about five to seven inches below your nose. (Some of the odors people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can’t detect include cinnamon, coffee, onion, lemon, peppermint, peanut butter and anise.)
If you fail to identify the majority of odors, don’t panic or jump to conclusions. It could be related to other medical conditions, like obesity, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies or medications you’re taking.
However, it also indicates that it might be a good idea to pay a visit to your neurologist. He can administer a more detailed test. The one most often used is a “scratch and sniff” test called the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test, or UPSIT.
What happens if you fall into the high risk category? Well, there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s. So the best thing you can do is take matters into your own hands. Here are three things you can start doing immediately to slash your risk:
Get plenty of sleep. During sleep your brain flips on a “drainage” system that opens up between the cells of your brain. When this system is flipped on, cerebrospinal fluid rushes between your brain cells to pick up toxic waste products, like beta amyloid.
This process isn’t active when you’re awake. So if you’re not getting enough sleep, it can cause Alzheimer’s related amyloid plaques to build.
Get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day. If you regularly engage in physical activity, it can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s by almost 40%. Even if you start exercising later in life, it can reduce the odds of mental decline by about a third.
That’s because exercise encourages the growth of new neurons. It also decreases the buildup of amyloid plaques. So get in the habit of walking or riding your bike 30 minutes each day with a few bursts of intensity.
Optimize your diet by ditching the American way of eating. Cut out the high-glycemic carbs, packaged foods, saturated fats and whole grains.
Instead, I recommend adopting a Mediterranean-style diet. This means getting plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, seafood, nuts and spices.
And don’t forget the extra virgin olive oil. It contains a compound called oleocanthal. This incredible antioxidant boosts production of proteins and enzymes that are critical in removing beta amyloid – a key factor in Alzheimer’s – from the brain.
Growdon ME, et al. Odor identification and Alzheimer disease biomarkers in clinically normal elderly. Neurology. 2015 May 26;84(21):2153-60.
Schubert CR, et al. Olfaction and the 5-year incidence of cognitive impairment in an epidemiological study of older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2008 Aug;56(8):1517-21.
Bohnen NI, et al. Olfactory dysfunction, central cholinergic integrity and cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease. Brain. 2010 Jun;133(Pt 6):1747-54.
Xie L, et al. Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science. 2013 Oct 18;342(6156):373-7.
Geda YE, et al. Physical exercise, aging, and mild cognitive impairment: a population-based study. Arch Neurol. 2010 Jan;67(1):80-6.
- H. Martinez-Lapiscina, et al. Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 2013.