How Can Health and Fitness Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

If you are a regular reader of Strong Figure, then you know we are ardent supporters in the fight against cancer. Both Steph and I have lost love ones to this disease and we believe the risks of cancer can be minimized by making smart health choices — this is one of the primary reasons we began writing the Total Health and Fitness Makeover.

We centered the Total Health and Fitness Makeover around Five Essential Keys to Good Health: 1. Water 2. Nutrition 3. Exercise and Movement 4. Sleep and 5. Stress Reduction. And not surprisingly, each of these keys has a direct impact on cancer and other diseases such as heart disease. But as I poured through studies relative to each of these Five Essential Keys, another disease kept reoccurring in my research — Alzheimer’s Disease.

Today is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Day

Alzheimer’s is a disease that has been on my mind a lot over the last couple years. My incredibly strong, triumphant Grandmother has been robbed of her mind by this evil disease called Alzheimer’s.

A woman who at only 21 years old lost her husband and a child, had three other surviving children to care for on her own, no high school degree, and very little hope to produce a sustainable income living in rural Pennsylvania; remarkably, overcame her terrible circumstances. And strongly.

catholic_university_of_america
Catholic University in Washington D.C.

My grandmother earned her GED and started taking classes at a local community college. Eventually she was accepted into St. Francis College (now St. Francis University) where she completed her bachelor’s degree. She moved to Washington D.C., received her master’s degree from Catholic University and went on to work for one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious think tanks, Brookings Institute.

Her story truly shows her victorious spirit. And that spirit was stolen from her. Alzheimer’s disease damages and kills brain cells, which leads to brain shrinkage and fewer connections between the already few surviving brain cells.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is still not fully understood, but experts believe the disease results from a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

Less than 5% of the time, Alzheimer’s is caused by specific genetic changes that virtually guarantee a person will develop the disease — The Mayo Clinic.

Meaning, 95% of the time the disease can be prevented. I found study after study that not only affirms this but shows us how we can protect ourselves from this soul sucking disease. In fact, all of Strong Figure’s Total Health and Fitness Makeover’s Five Essential Keys to Good Health seem to directly impact one’s susceptibility to AD.

Prevention

Not surprisingly, any disease that attacks the cell can be minimized with proper cell function. Cells function better with adequate hydration and nutrition. But for the purposes of this article I want to dive deeper into the causes and prevention strategies to help reduce the risk of developing AD.

Exercise

Mounting evidence suggests that physical activity may have benefits beyond a healthy heart and body weight. Through the past several years, population studies have suggested that exercise which raises your heart rate for at least 30 minutes several times a week can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s.

Exercise increases the endurance of cells and tissues to oxidative stress, vascularization, and energy metabolism, all important in neurogenesis, memory improvement, and brain plasticity.

In one study done by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, researchers studied over 300 late-middle aged adults and found that those who exercised five times a week or more, had lower risks for brain related disease such as AD.

push up greenIn a study done by the University of Chicago, researchers used mice genetically bred to develop beta-amyloid plaque in the brain which is a plaque directly associated with the development of AD. In the study, some mice exercised and some did not. The brains in the mice that exercised had 50-80% less beta-amyloid plaque than the sedentary mice. Moreover, the physically active mice produced more of an enzyme that prevents this plaque associated with AD.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco examined the relationship of physical activity and mental function in nearly 6,000 women age 65 or older over an eight year period. The study found that women who were more physically active were as much as 40% less likely to experience cognitive decline.  Researchers involved in the study noted that, exercise is “an important intervention that all of us can do and it could have huge implications in preventing cognitive decline.”

Regular physical exercise is probably the best means we have of preventing Alzheimer’s disease today, better than medications, better than intellectual activity, better than supplements and diet. — Dr. Ronald Petersen, Director of the Alzheimer’s Research Center at the Mayo Clinic.

It is important to note that although exercise is very important, it is not the only preventative strategy. My Grandmother was an established swimmer and she walked everywhere she went.

Nutrition

Researchers from Brown University believe dietary hormonal imbalances of insulin and leptin could result in dementia. Insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar, also plays a critical role in brain signaling. When the Brown University researchers disrupted the proper signaling of insulin in the brain, the lack of signaling resulted in dementia. Furthermore, over consumption of sugar and grains also disrupts these signals from insulin and leptin, leaving one susceptible to dementia.

alzheimersOften diseases associated with obesity, like type 2-diabetes have increased risks of developing AD. In fact, diabetes is linked to a 65% increased risk of developing AD. A decrease in insulin production in the brain seems to lead to the degeneration of brain cells. And studies show that people with lower levels of insulin and insulin receptors in their brain have a higher potential to develop Alzheimer’s.

There is NO question in my mind that regularly consuming more than 25 grams of fructose per day will dramatically increase your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Consuming too much fructose will inevitably wreak havoc on your body’s ability to regulate proper insulin levels. — Dr. Joseph Mercola

The University of California at Los Angeles conducted a study which supports Dr. Mercola’s beliefs about fructose. Researchers found that rats that were denied quality omega-3 fats and replaced with foods rich in fructose, developed impaired brain function in just six weeks. A low omega-3 diet that is high in fructose? Isn’t that the typical American diet?

Here are five essential changes you can make to your diet immediately:

1. Reduce your exposure to foods high in pesticides. According to Dr. Cynthia Green, founder of the Memory Enhancement Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center, people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease had up to four times more DDT in their system than people with out AD. Yes DDT, a banned substance in America. DDT is still used on foods grown in other countries and it is a pesticide that may still be present in people who consumed DDT before its ban. Dr. Green says foods such as grapes, strawberries, potatoes, and spinach are particularly concerning.

2. TAKE FISH OIL!!!  I can’t express loud enough how important it is that ALL of us take fish oil. And as you may have read from one of my past articles, I am a particular fan of krill oil, which has a reduced risk of mercury yet has the same omega-3’s as regular fish oil. A recent study on women’s brains showed that the more omega-3’s were present in the brain the less cell damage and brain shrinkage, which are common age related factors leading to AD. As I have pointed out before, our brains are largely made up of an omega-3 known as DHA. Most Americans do not consume enough DHA. If you are not a regular fish eater or you are worried about mercury in fish (which you should be) then please supplement with a high quality fish oil or krill oil.

salmon_image3. Eat foods high in vitamin B12. In this linked Finnish study, people who eat foods high in B12 reduce their risk of developing AD. Shellfish (like clams), organ meat (like beef liver), and fish (salmon) are excellent sources of vitamin B12. Vegetarians are at an increased risk of B12 deficiency and should consider supplementing with B12.

4. Eat a diet rich in folate (vitamin B9). Eat your green veggies! There is some evidence that raw forms of veggies have higher concentrations of folate and folate is an important weapon in your nutritional arsenal for fighting all kinds of disease, including AD. Dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and okra are all high in folate. Citrus fruits, beans, and lentils also are good sources of folate.

5. Eat blueberries. Avoid excess due to the high sugar content, but blueberries have high amounts of anthocyanin, which has been shown to guard against AD and brain decline.Blueberries

Clearly exercise and nutrition are critical in building your defenses against AD; however, to the best of my knowledge, my Grandmother ate really, really healthy. She did have a bit of a sweet tooth, but I am certain she ate better than the majority of Americans.

Stress

I wrote the chapter on stress for the Total Health and Fitness Makeover and you would not believe how bad stress is for you. I won’t get into all the gory details now, but let us look at the impact that stress has on AD.

At the annual World Congress of Neurology in Vienna, researchers presented that stress may be a significant trigger for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. An Argentinian study found that 72% of Alzheimer’s patients had experienced severe emotional stress during the two years preceding their diagnosis. The stresses included: violent assault, car accidents, death of a loved one, and financial problems.

If you are interested in reading more about the impact stress has on AD, here is an interesting report put together by UCIrvine.

Sleep

My Grandmother exercised daily, she ate a nutrient-rich diet, and her spirituality was very strong, so it is not likely she suffered from a great deal of stress. Was she one of the 5% of people who was predestined to develop AD? Perhaps. Or could it be due to one of the other Five Essential Keys to Good Health — Sleep?No Sleep

My Grandmother was one of those people who didn’t require a lot of sleep. I personally struggle with sleep so I read about it and talk about it A LOT. I hear a lot of people say things like, “I’m lucky, I don’t need a lot of sleep.” Which is strange because science does not support that these people exist. The thing is, EVERYONE needs sleep. Yes, some people may function in daily tasks fine with less sleep but that does not mean their bodies do not need sleep to improve their overall physical and mental health.

Experts have known for years that people with Alzheimer’s disease often get poor sleep. Scientists have been uncertain whether this poor sleep leads to AD or if poor sleep is a symptom of AD. Today, more and more research is showing that poor sleep may indeed lead to AD and other forms of brain decay.

Sleep is a necessary biophysical process that the body and mind depend on. One of sleep’s functions is to clear the brain of dangerous and toxic molecules. In a study done by the University of Rochester Medical School, researchers found that when mice slept, the cells in the brain filled with fluids, which acted as cleaners and washed away harmful materials such as beta-amyloid (remember this is that bad stuff that links to AD). A recent University of Pittsburgh study suggested that sleep detoxifies the brain by flushing out the waste products of neural activity.

While we sleep the brain flushes out toxins.
While we sleep the brain flushes out toxins.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that sleep impeded a gene known as APOE-E4,which predisposes carriers to the development of AD. In this study, 700 elderly men and women (without dementia at the start of the study) were observed over six years. 98 people developed AD during the six year study period. The researchers found that those who carried the APOE-E4 gene who reported quality sleep showed the least brain decay and the poor sleepers were more likely to exhibit brain plaque and AD.

Other studies have linked people with conditions such as sleep apnea to an increased risk of dementia.

A 2013 study from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health found that shorter overall nights’ sleep duration and poor sleep quality were linked to increased beta-amloid build-up. And the researchers noted that this was consistent with earlier animal research in which sleep deprivation increased beta-amyloid levels.

Because late-life sleep disturbance can be treated, interventions to improve sleep or maintain healthy sleep among older adults may help prevent or slow AD to the extent that poor sleep promotes AD onset and progression. — Report by the study’s authors.

Furthermore, people who reported sleeping less or who had trouble sleeping, were more likely to have higher levels of beta-amyloid plaque in their brains.

Sleeping drugs increase the risk of Alzheimer’s

The University of Washington School of Pharmacy found that over-the-counter sleeping aids increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Many sleeping aids contain ancholinergic blocking effects on the nervous system which raise the chances of developing AD and other forms of dementia.

It is important to note that if your medical professional has you taking such medicines that you should not stop your treatments and you should consider consulting your physician regarding this study.

There is a better way

As stated earlier, I have struggled with sleep my entire life. I have tried every trick, remedy, supplement, and sleep hygiene practice known. In my next article, which will publish in a week or so, I will give my tips to better sleep. So you will not want to miss out on that! Make sure you sign up for a free subscription to Strong Figure so you don’t miss out on this article (don’t worry we will never share your email and you can cancel at anytime.)

One Last Thing

While researching for this article I found this video, which isn’t exactly the highest production value, but the content is pretty great and I love coconut oil so I thought it was worth sharing:

Bonus nutrition tip: Can coconut oil not only prevent AD but treat it!?!

Listen to these four doctors discuss the impact of too much sugar on dementia and coconut oil as a preventative supplemental food.

Has Alzheimer’s affected someone you know? Do you have your own prevention strategies?

This Week’s SFCW:

 Workout One: 3 Rounds For time,

  • 400 meter sprint
  • 12 single leg deadlifts / leg using a kettlebell or dumbbell (sub lunges if you don’t have equipment)
  • 21 kettlebell swings  (if you don’t have equipment, do some “bridge ups” from the floor: lay down, feet on floor close to your glutes, and then lift and lower the glutes)

Workout Two: 5 Rounds For time,

  • 200 meter sprint
  • 100 meter farmer carries (sub 30 shoulder taps if you don’t have equipment for the carries)
  • 50 meter lunges

Workout Three: 15 minutes — as many rounds possible

  • 10 dumbbell or kettlebell renegade rows (row weight from plank position with other hand on the floor or on the weight)
  • 10 dumbbell/kettlebell front squats (squat with weight in rack position. If you only  have one weight, sub goblet squats)
  • 10 dumbbell/kettlebell push presses (both arms at same time unless you only have one weight)

If you don’t have weights for this one, 100 burpees for time….and seriously consider investing in a kettlebell. ;)

We love hearing your comments and feedback! Don’t forget to comment below: Has Alzheimer’s affected someone you know? Do you have your own prevention strategies?