By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
July 27, 2020
If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or dementia, you probably feel like you have a giant target on your back.
In fact, these diseases are a top concern for many of my aging patients.
But just because you’re at a higher genetic risk doesn’t mean you’re doomed to suffer.
I always tell my patients this. It’s not genetics that count the most… it’s how you live your life.
Here’s a prime example…
I once had a 70-year-old patient come in for a checkup. His wife told me, “You gotta do something. It’s been a year and he can’t remember anything!”
So, I recommended a series of lifestyle and diet changes they could make over time.
When they came, the wife spoke to me while the nurse took her husband’s vital signs. “You said we could expect a 50% improvement in four to five months…”
I waited with bated breath.
“We’re seeing an 80% improvement and it’s only been four months. He’s lost 40 pounds AND he has energy again.”
She was thrilled. He really was a lot better!
Things worked out because they were doing everything I recommended. So, there’s no reason you can’t do the same thing for yourself or a loved one.
How you live your life really does matter…
A new study in JAMA supports my outlook. It found that a healthy lifestyle lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s by 32%.This even goes for the people with the highest genetic risk of Alzheimer’s.
This means if dementia runs in your family, it’s more important than ever to make positive changes in your life. And the JAMA article agrees wholeheartedly with the same lifestyle choices I recommend.
Here are five of the most healthful activities you can use to slash your changes of dementia. These work even if the disease runs in your family.
- Get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity – or 75 minutes of vigorous activity – each week. You deserve 20 or so minutes a day of life giving movement.
- Increase your intake of fruits, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish. It’s also vital to decrease the levels of red meat and processed meat in your diet. Avoid foods rich in refined grains, starch, added sugars, salt, and trans fat.
- Limit your alcohol consumption to the recommended intake. This is one drink daily for women, two for men.
Sleep! If 7-8 continuous hours is elusive after searching for reasons why, don’t get upset with stretches of four or so hours while figuring out how to stretch those hours.. Mankind used to wake up in the night to check for predators circling and braving a dying fire pit. Follow sleep protocols proven over the years.
These healthy behaviors really are common sense. Not only do they protect you against Alzheimer’s and dementia…
They are also great advice for anyone wishing to avoid heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and pretty much any other chronic disease.
However there are other, not-so-obvious factors that could easily sabotage your brain-saving efforts.
Even More (Not-So-Obvious) Ways to Protect Your Brain
Repeat ! Get enough sleep. Getting a restful night’s sleep on a regular basis is critical when it comes to the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Your brain has a “drainage” system (the glymphatic system) that flips on when you fall asleep.
Once it’s activated, large amounts of space (the ventricular highways) open up between the cells of your brain. Your brain cells actually lose some volume to widen the highway allowing the system to flush better. This allows cerebrospinal fluid to rush between brain cells and pick up toxic waste products.
This process flushes out all the garbage accumulated in your brain during the day. This includes beta amyloid and tau deposits associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
But if your sleep is interrupted, or if you don’t get enough sleep, this process can’t do its job. This, of course, places you at much higher risk of memory disorders.
Reconsider your use of statin drugs. I’ve said before that statins are one of the most over-prescribed medications in the U.S.
At the last count in 2013, more than one in every four adults over 39 was using a statin drug. That’s 39.2 million people! (I’m sure the number is substantially higher now.)
But did you also know that statins can have some nasty side effects? They can mimic the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s causing memory loss and confusion.
So, talk to your doctor about other options if he suggests statin drugs… or find a different doctor who better understands functional medicine.
Watch out for artificial sweeteners. I often warn against drinking diet sodas and eating artificially sweetened foods. Despite popular belief, they actually promote weight gain and diabetes… the two things they are supposed to protect against.
Plus, artificial sugars nearly double your chances of Alzheimer’s disease or stroke! Instead, try sweetening your food with natural ingredients like fresh fruit or raw, organic honey…or if nothing else, but available, natural organic cane sugar.
Beware of medications with anticholinergic activity. These drugs block the action of acetylcholine in your brain. Research your prescribed medication if only enough to ask your doctor some questions if it’s right for you.
A reduction in this brain chemical increases cell death in the hippocampus – the region of the brain associated with memory.
The hippocampus is also where Alzheimer’s strikes first – even before any symptoms appear.
Taking a strong anticholinergic for just 60 days can cause memory problems and mild cognitive impairment. Weaker ones can have the same negative impact in as little as 90 days.
You can imagine the problems when you take them long-term…
One or two years of use increases your chances of dementia by 23%. Taking them for three or more years kicks that risk up into the range of 50 some-odd percent.
Some prescription drugs that fall into this category include antidepressants (paroxetine, amitriptyline) and overactive bladder meds (darifenacin, oxybutynin, tolterodine).
It also includes antipsychotics (chlorpromazine, olanzapine) and anti-epilepsy meds (oxcarbazepine, carbamazepine).
But prescription drugs aren’t the only mind-destroying medications in this category.
Many of the remedies you buy over-the-counter for common, every day ailments also add to your anticholinergic burden.
I’m talking about antihistamines like Benadryl, Mucinex, Sudafed and Contac. Pills that help you sleep, including Sominex, Unisom, Excedrin PM, Tylenol PM and others.
Even heartburn meds such as Tagamet and Zantac have weak anticholinergic activity.
Whenever possible, I strongly urge you to find natural solutions for your health concerns. But when a medication is needed, you still have several options to keep your anticholinergic burden lower.
Healthy lifestyle may offset genetic risk of dementia. Press Release. University of Exeter. July 2019.
Lourida, et al. Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia. JAMA. 2019 Jul 14. [Epub ahead of print]
Winer JR, et al. Sleep as a potential biomarker of tau and β-amyloid burden in the human brain. J Neurosci. 2019 Jun 17. pii: 0503-19.
Fagherazzi G, et al. Chronic Consumption of Artificial Sweetener in Packets or Tablets and Type 2 Diabetes Risk: Evidence from the E3N-European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;70(1):51-58.
Azad MB, et a. Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. CMAJ. 2017 Jul 17; 189(28): E929–E939.
Pase MP, et al. Sugar- and artificially-sweetened beverages and the risks of incident stroke and dementia: A prospective cohort study. Stroke. 2017 May; 48(5): 1139–1146.
Coupland CAC, et al. Anticholinergic Drug Exposure and the Risk of Dementia: A Nested Case-Control Study. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Jun 24. [Epub ahead of print]
Gray SL, et al. Cumulative use of strong anticholinergics and incident dementia: a prospective cohort study. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Mar;175(3):401-7.
Salami JA, et al. National Trends in Statin Use and Expenditures in the US Adult Population From 2002 to 2013: Insights From the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. JAMA Cardiol. 2017 Jan 1;2(1):56-65.