Dementia is one of the most devastating diseases of the 21st century, with prevalence in the US expected to almost double by 2050. Millions of cases are preventable. The latest science shows that Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is not a fate set in stone and that a healthy lifestyle and plant-predominant diet are crucial in preventing and delaying 40% of cases.
Various things increase a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease including age, family history, head injuries, heart disease, diabetes, untreated depression, and loneliness and social isolation.
Dr Yashoda Bhaskar
The MIND diet is a hybrid “"Mediterranean-Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet," that focuses on the consumption of whole plant foods and minimizes animal products and processed foods. It is known to be related with slower cognitive decline. In this large, groundbreaking study of over 900 individuals, those who adhered more to the MIND diet had a 35-53% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who adhered to it less. Even moderate adherence to the MIND diet may reduce the risk of AD 2.
A study following over 5,700 individuals across 9.4 years found that those following a plant-predominant diet (excluding meat and fish) had a 33% reduced risk of developing dementia than those who ate an omnivorous diet. These results strongly suggest that excluding meat and fish from the diet may benefit brain health and dementia risk 3.
This research study involved 1190 elderly participants at high risk of dementia to determine whether a lifestyle intervention could prevent cognitive decline at this point. The researchers found that an intervention involving diet, exercise, and cognitive training maintained and in many cases improved cognitive function with age 4.
Researchers assessed five behaviors (regular exercise, not smoking, moderate alcohol intake, healthy body weight. and healthy diet) in 2,235 men across 30 years for their association with chronic disease and dementia. Overall, people who followed four or five of these behaviors were up to 60% less likely to develop dementia and cognitive decline. Exercise was the strongest mitigating factor for dementia and cognitive decline risk. These participants also had 70% fewer instances of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, compared to individuals who followed none of the behaviors 5.
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that most commonly affects adults 65 or older.
Dementia is one of the most devastating diseases of the 21st century. Not only is it tough living with dementia, it’s also incredibly hard for loved ones who need to take care of the individual, be it their parents, partner, or someone else.
Alzheimer's disease affects the brain, causing changes in a person's memory, thinking, and behavior. One of the key features of Alzheimer's disease is the presence of abnormal protein deposits in the brain called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain made of tau proteins. These protein deposits can damage and kill nerve cells, stop neurons functioning properly, and lead to the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
Many people believe that your risk of Alzheimer’s disease is set in stone; a concoction of genetics and old age that we just have to wait to catch up with us. One genetic risk factor is a gene called APOE4. This increases your risk of Alzheimer's disease when you inherit it from one parent, and even more when you inherit it from both parents.
However, the genetic risk factors of developing Alzheimer’s don’t make up the full picture. Instead of just genetics and old age, the development of dementia is driven by the same mechanisms as other chronic conditions, namely inflammation, dyslipidemia, oxidative stress, insulin resistance and an unhealthy gut microbiome 6.
The 2020 report of the Lancet Commission, a highly respected publication, found that 40% of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed by addressing 12 lifestyle-related factors; tobacco smoking, physical inactivity, depression, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, hearing loss and social isolation, excessive alcohol consumption, air pollution and traumatic brain injury 7. Based on their research, the scientists state ‘It is never too early and never too late in the life course for dementia prevention.’
Some of the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
To diagnose Alzhiemer’s disease, a healthcare provider will typically need to understand the individual's symptoms, get a perspective on the symptoms from a close friend or family member, and conduct a thorough medical evaluation, including a physical exam and review of the individual's medical history. Additionally, the provider may recommend a variety of tests to assess cognitive function and rule out other potential causes of memory loss and cognitive decline. These tests may include:
Ultimately, a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is made based on a combination of clinical evaluation, testing, and the presence of specific symptoms and cognitive changes.
Pharmaceuticals have notoriously failed to produce effective results for treating or managing AD. On the other hand, lifestyle interventions have shown to be safe, cheap, and effective in managing the risk and progression of dementia and cognitive decline.
Making sure we follow a healthy diet, along with physical activity, restorative sleep, and stress management, are the key features in preventing or slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease and improving symptoms of cognitive decline once they have started.
Plant based diets address the key drivers of dementia. They are rich in vitamins and minerals that act as antioxidants to put out fires caused by inflammation in our brain. For brain health, lots of leafy green vegetables and berries, alongside the reduction of saturated fat intake from animal products, are crucial for protection against damage.
These are just a few of the changes that may give individuals and their loved ones the best chance of living a long, dementia-free life. If we can learn and implement what it takes to protect our brain, perhaps families can stay together a little longer.
36-step protocol for preventing, managing, and even reversing AD: The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia : Bredesen, Dr Dale
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4. Ngandu, T. et al. A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 385, 2255–2263 (2015).
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