Reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease
If you’ve watched a loved one slowly develop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, you’ll know what a debilitating and distressing condition it is.
World Alzheimer’s Day aims to improve understanding about this frightening and devastating disease. By highlighting issues faced by people with Alzheimer’s, its goal is to reduce the stigma faced by sufferers.
In this article, we’ll help you understand how you can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s – What’s the Difference?
While dementia is an overall term describing a decline in brain function involving memory, communication and performance of daily tasks, Alzheimer’s is a specific condition affecting thought and language ability as well as memory. However, the symptoms of both do overlap.
The Alzheimer’s Society estimates 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, with the most common form being Alzheimer’s disease, affecting up to 70% of those with dementia.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, its risk increasing with age. However, it’s not a normal part of ageing because decline happens faster than would be expected for your age.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Initially, symptoms may be put down to the normal effects of ageing, but progressive damage to the brain’s nerve cells eventually starts to interfere with normal life.
- Problems concentrating
- Trouble remembering recent conversations
- Disorientation: not knowing the date or time, getting lost in familiar places
- Mood changes like anger, anxiety, depression, suspicion or confusion
- Not recognising loved ones and forgetting names
- Inability to complete basic tasks
- Difficulty walking or speaking, not being able to come up with the right word
- Losing and misplacing items and putting them in unusual places
- Problems with balance and co-ordination
Symptoms generally appear after age 60, although some younger people do develop Alzheimer’s.
Why Does Alzheimer’s Disease Develop?
Your brain is made up of millions of brain cells called neurones in constant communication with one another.
In Alzheimer’s, deposits of protein accumulate abnormally and tangles form in and around your brain cells, meaning connectivity between neurones is lost and brain cells start to die.
How Can I Reduce my Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease?
To answer this question we need to discover why these proteins accumulate in the brain. It can be because the protein is not cleared away or it’s produced in large amounts. Both these processes may be connected to inflammation. In a vicious cycle, protein plaques and tangles are identified as invaders by immune cells in your brain, sparking off inflammation, further encouraging the development of more plaques.
Acute inflammation serves a useful purpose: it helps repair your body after some sort of threat. It’s temporary and subsides after a short time. But chronic, low levels inflammation damage your body, smouldering away in the background to some perceived ongoing danger which doesn’t go away.
This type of inflammation tends to increase with age, contributing to the ageing process, and because if this it’s known as ‘inflammaging’.
There is a genetic association with Alzheimer’s, although if you have the gene predisposing you to develop the disease it’s not inevitable you will go on to suffer from it. Whether or not the gene becomes switched on depends on lifestyle and environmental factors.
Strategies to reduce Inflammation and support brain health:
- Nurture your gut. Inflammation is closely connected to your gut health because it’s home to a huge variety of bacteria all releasing messenger molecules. These can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, and some even act directly as brain cell irritants. If your gut lining, the key to keeping damaging molecules out of your body, becomes permeable, toxins and partly digested food can access your blood, creating an inflammatory reaction.
- Look after your dental health. Bacteria causing gum disease are strongly associated with increased inflammation.
- Manage your stress. Don’t forget stressors on your body include too little exercise and lack of sleep. Your body heals damaged cells, including brain cells, during the night.
- Feed your brain: nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities and too few antioxidants in your diet can all contribute to inflammation. Meanwhile, toxins like heavy metals, environmental pollutants and mycotoxins, substances produced by moulds, act as brain irritants.
Functional Medicine and Alzheimer’s Disease
Currently, there’s no medical cure for Alzheimer’s disease, although drugs are available which may slow its progress and improve memory for some people.
Functional medicine believes in discovering the cause of your symptoms and brain health is no exception. Looking at why Alzheimer’s develops can help you avoid its risk factors.
Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, prevention is always best, however studies have seen reductions in symptoms and even increases in brain volume after changes in diet and lifestyle.
Testing can examine how your gut health may be influencing your brain function and can detect the presence of toxic metals, mycotoxins and inflammatory molecules. Meanwhile, nutritional deficiencies affecting brain health can be identified and corrected.