By David Blyweiss, M.D.
What’s your biggest fear when you consider your golden years? If you are like most of my patients, it’s the loss of your mental faculties. It’s a real concern—an estimated eight million people in the U.S. will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease by the year 2030. But you can reduce the risk, starting today, with just a few simple changes.
Brain Bad Guys
In recent years, growing scientific evidence indicates that both inflammation and oxidative stress caused by free radical damage are closely linked to a decline in brain function. Both oxidative stress and inflammation destroy membranes and kill cells so that the brain functions less effectively. And, as you age, you are less able to deal with oxidative stress and inflammation.
Low level inflammation is characteristic of all neurodegenerative conditions. While acute inflammation is good in the face of injury, ongoing chronic inflammation in the brain destroys nerve cells and contributes to Alzheimer’s. How can you tell if you have chronic inflammation? According to a recent cross-sectional study of 99 patients, Italian researchers concluded that high C-reactive protein (CRP) levels—a blood marker of inflammation—is positively associated with dementia.
The effect of oxidative stress on the brain is also catching the eye of researchers. Studies show that oxidative damage to lipids, proteins and DNA occurs in multiple brain regions in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, Alzheimer’s patients tend to have lower antioxidant levels than people without the disease. Antioxidants provide a defense mechanism against oxidation to protect brain function.
How can you cool down the inflammation and oxidative stress processes that wreak havoc in the brain? You can start in the kitchen. A growing number of studies show that people who eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables show fewer age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s. But foods rich in antioxidants don’t just help to prevent dementia. Preliminary research suggests that they can also reverse it to some degree.
You can power up every day on a number of foods linked with brain preservation—and many of them are included in the traditional Mediterranean diet. Scientists from Columbia University report that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease—possibly due to reduction in inflammation and an antioxidant effect. More recently, the Columbia team also found that eating a Mediterranean diet rich in good fat like olive oil and nuts and leafy green vegetables also reduces the risk of mild cognitive impairment.
Even if you are wholly committed to eating like a Greek, it’s hard to do on a 24/7 basis, especially around the holidays. This is why I tell all of my patients about an easy way to boost their antioxidant status, even on days when your diet falters. The key is to replicate eating a rainbow of colorful foods with a multivitamin that provides whole food antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Since most multis have shortcomings in the variety and amount of antioxidants they offer, I’ve developed EnerGex-Complete. Taking just one ounce of this unique liquid multi provides high-potency extracts of proven brain foods like blueberries, pomegranate, spinach and green tea. I’ve also included herbs and nutrients, like gingko biloba, alpha lipoic acid and rhodiola, that block the stress signals to the brain and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
There are two other supplements I tell my patients about when they express concern about brain function. The first—omega-3s. A growing body of research links the brain’s principal omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), with mental function. Data from several studies show that DHA, found in cold water fish and fish oil, is an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s because of anti-plaque, antioxidant and neuroprotective mechanisms. My recommended dosage is 3,000 mg. of a high quality fish oil supplement daily.
The other nutrient is curcumin, which is derived from the curry spice tumeric. Curcumin slows the formation of, and may possibly even destroy, the accumulated plaque deposits that are at the root of Alzheimer’s disease. A new study shows that curcumin also boosts cerebral blood flow, which can help all aspects of brain function. Since most of us don’t eat curry on a daily basis, take 500 mg. of a turmeric extract that is standardized at 90 to 95 percent curcumin three times a day.
Lastly, walking for thirty minutes a day is the easiest, no-cost form of anti- inflammatory activity you can do for yourself. So get out there or find a friend to join you and make it part of your daily routine.
Remember, it’s never too late—or too early—to protect against cognitive decline. Combining an antioxidant-rich diet with brain-boosting supplements is a delicious and easy way to stay sharp for years to come.
Awasthi H. Protective effect of curcumin against intracerebral streptozotocin induced impairment in memory and cerebral blood flow. Life Science. 2009 Nov 16. [Epub ahead of print]
Mancinella A. Is there a relationship between high C-reactive protein (CRP) levels and dementia? Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. 2009;49 Suppl 1:185-194.
Scarmeas N. Mediterranean Diet and Mild Cognitive Impairment. Archives of Neurology. 2009;66:216-225.