“I intend to live forever. So far, so good.” Steven Wright.
I remember when my husband and I got our first unsolicited – membership card in the mail. We were, “WHAT? WHO? WHAAA???” American Association of RETIRED Persons? We were both active, working, busy, involved in our community. One of us had just turned 50. We also kept – or, rather, paid for – the memberships: They were good for some really nice discounts.
Well, that was a long time ago.
Last year, as soon as my mother was showing undisputed indications of memory impairment, I began seeing articles about Alzheimer’s everywhere! First in the AARP magazine. But not just there. Still Alice and Can’t We Talk About Something Pleasant were making the hit parade in books and I read them both. A 60 Minutes program did a wonderful segment on it. And the buzz seems to be increasing. Last week the cover story of the NYTimes Sunday Magazine was “The Last Day of Her Life.” I won’t get into the details. It was not exactly encouraging or inspiring. (You can look it up if you’re interested.)Had my mom fallen pray to the dreaded Alzheimer’s? Or was it Mild Cognitive Impairment? Or some other form of dementia? I don’t yet know, but given the possibility of Alzheimer’s, I kept – and keep – searching for some thing she could – and can – do, some foods she could – and can – eat, anything, to help slow this down, or even reverse it.Of everything I learned, this was the most important:
Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly diagnosed after the age of 65 but changes in the brain may have begun ten to twenty years before the appearance of symptoms.
Dear Reader: How old are you? Add 20. Does that come out to 65 or higher?
If you’re reading this blog, the sum is probably pretty close. Close enough for you to start paying careful attention to what you’re eating and your general lifestyle. When I do the simple arithmetic, the sum is significantly more than 65.
Literally last week, a NYTimes article about two linked studies, published Tuesday in JAMA, said this: “Data from nearly 9.500 people on five continents shows that amyloid can appear 20 to 30 years before symptoms of dementia. . .”
Again I ask:
Dear Reader, How old are you? Add 30. Does that come out to 65 or higher? You only have to be 35 in order to be in that low range. Chances are that you are.
For my husband and me, it’s a pretty good splash of some pretty cold water! If you don’t know how awful this disease I’m not going to be the one to tell you. Not here. You can read about it on your own. Here.
That said, with all my research, I came up with several areas in I immediately put my mom on this regimen – and we immediately looked at our own lives, what we do, what we eat, what we drink, to minimize the chances of our falling into this group.
Here’s what I learned, and here’s my list:
- Depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety have both been linked to memory loss. I in particular watch my anxiety level – aside from the fact that being depressed or anxious is a bummer and that anxiety is not good for blood pressure either… Okay, easier said than done. Just caring for an elderly parent is anxiety-producing, and add to that I live 300 miles away and have no help from my siblings. But exercise, healthy relationships, yoga, all these things help and we try to make these a part of our lives. Not committing to activities that will add to our stress. Many studies now are studying the effect of yoga on Alzheimer’s because it relaxes the body and stimulate oxygen to the brain; research at BIDMC, my hospital here in Boston, showed diminished atrophy of the hippocampus region of the brain relative to those who did not practice yoga.Okay, my husband does not like yoga, but I do, and my goal is to go once a week but it’s rare that I can do it regularly like that. My mother goes to one yoga class at her senior village.Here’s one article that discusses the link between depression, anxiety, and Alzheimers. There are plenty of studies looking into this.
- curcumin We take two per day, and my mother takes two per day. Alzheimer’s rates in India are exceedingly low and this has been attributed to the heavy intake of the curcumin, the active (and orange) ingredient that is in the tumeric (which is in the curry) that is traditionally eaten. Many studies have been done, more studies need to be done, and you can read online about these.We now have curried – and heavy on the tumeric – basmati rice on weekends and we each take two curcumin capsules weekdays. I have my mom take two curcumin capsules each day. Important to remember is that when eaten as part of cooked food, it crosses the brain barrier before it’s broken down; if you’re taking it in capsule form, the trick is to find a formulation that will also cross the brain barrier.
Omega 3s: Here is where we talk about salmon and other fatty fish. Studies such as at Columbia University found that the more Omega 3s a person consumes the lower the blood beta-amyloid level. Of course with Alzheimer’s we’re interested in brain levels. But the blood is a good place to begin.
Omega 3s from food is much more effective than Omega 3s from supplements and we purchase frozen salmon filets from Costco.
- Coconut: Some researchers have shown that coconut helps but it’s very inconclusive. Still, macaroons are great and the neuropsychologist recommended it for my mom. Indian, which has an incredibly low incidence of Alzheimer’s, has a diet rich in tumeric and also coconut. I make my mom a little fudge cube of coconut oil and sugarless chocolate chips and she has two per day, each being one tablespoon. More to follow on this.
- Vitamin D3: Studies found a link between Vitamin D3 deficiency and Alzheimer’s. You can get your Vitamin D3 from exposure to the sun but also from foods that contain Omega 3s.My husband and I get plenty of sunlight exposure (Remember that SP30+) and we try to eat salmon several times per week – not more because of the mercury levels in salmon.My mom also takes one capsule 5000 iU D3 each day.
- Ubiquinol is found naturally in oily fish, organ meats, whole grains, vegetable oil, and fruit. It aids energy production in the cells. “Numerous animal studies on mouse and rat models Alzheimer’s and dementia suggest that CoQ10 supplements offer benefits such as improved memory skills and cognitive abilities in mice and rats [9-11]. However, these benefits have not been replicated in clinical trials and one study in mice reported that chronic CoQ10 supplementation impaired learning and memory .”I have my mom taking one pill a day, no harm done, and my husband and I take one a day, but it may help us more than it helps her since we’re younger.
- Vitamins E and C: The research is ongoing: Vitamins E and C, which trap theseharmful antioxidants that damage parts of brain cells necessary for receiving memory signals called acetylcholine receptors. At least one clinical trial has suggested that Alzheimer’s patients benefit from vitamin E intake. Another study shows that vitamin E can protect against damage caused by amyloid proteins that accumulate abnormally in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
I eat almonds every day to keep my blood sugar low. We also eat several oranges each day: oranges have taken the place of sugary carb deserts in our home.
Vitamin B12, sublingual, methylcobalamin: Another nutrient that is essential and that its deficiency can cause memory loss. However, there’s no conclusive proof that taking Vitamin B12 can reverse or cure Alzheimer’s.
My husband and I get B12 in our diet and in our One-a-Day vitamins, and I have my mom take it every day, can’t hurt.
L’Briut. To your health*!
*Hopefully also a cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s will one day be found.