If someone had told me that good nutrition in my early 20s was going to improve my fertility outcomes, I would have thought, who cares...Young, free and without consequence. I learnt that lesson the hard way! But now, as a woman in my 40s when I read recent research suggesting that if I make dietary modification NOW, I could ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s, I take notice.
In Australia there are an estimated 447,115 Australian’s living with dementia. This number is expected to increase to 589,807 by 2028 and 1,076,129 by 2058. It seems the cruelest of blows to build a life of memories, only to forget them. And, although research continues and more drugs are trialed, there is no cure. The difficulty in treating this disease lies in its complex pathophysiology.
A quick overview of this as it is understood today: Neuro-degeneration is caused by the accumulation of synapse destroying sticky plaques made of a protein called amyloid-beta. These guys are toxic to neurons, blocking signals that eventually cause the neurons to die. Neurons are vital to cognitive function! (Neurons are nerve cells that communicate messages from the brain, through the nervous system to the body). This is a VERY basic view of neuro-degenerative disease, in Alzheimer’s there are believed to be over 36 different metabolic factors that contribute to the destruction of neurons. Perhaps this is why developing a drug to stop Alzheimer’s and dementia is so difficult. Cue, diet and lifestyle modification.
In a 2019 large prospective cohort study spanning two decade, researchers found that 5 pre-determined healthful diets, including the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet and 2 variation on The Alternate Healthy Eating Index and a plant based diet were all inversely associated with the risk of cognitive impairment. Another 6.5-y randomized clinical trial found that the Mediterranean diet, supplemented with olive oil or nuts, improved global cognition compared with a low-fat diet.
The rationale behind the success of these healthy eating regimes has several factors: Firstly, healthy eating is associated with lower risk of chronic disease, which are major contributors to cognitive decline. Secondly, healthy diets reduce chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, which is involved in pathophysiology of neuro-degenerative diseases. Healthy diets improve micro-vascular function, needed to support a healthy brain. In addition, fruit, vegetable and grains are beneficial for a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome, which influences the central nervous system. Finally, healthy diets help reduce insulin resistance, which aids in more amyloid -beta plaques being broken down more often!
So here are a few tips:
· Eat oily fish – often
· Avoid foods with a GI index over 35
· Increase fibre in your diet best to do by increasing fruit & vegetables
· Avoid gluten dairy as much as possible
· Eat prebiotic & probiotic foods
· Exercise regularly
· Resolve sleep issues
· Heal the gut, because a leaky gut, leads to leaky brain
· Use cognitive enhancing herbs and nutraceuticals
Plus, do more things you love....because that's the best form of stress relief!
Dementia Australia (2018) Dementia Prevalence Data 2018-2058, commissioned research undertaken by NATSEM, University of Canberra.
Jing Wu, Xingyue Song, Guo-Chong Chen, Nithya Neelakantan, Rob M van Dam, Lei Feng, Jian-Min Yuan, An Pan, Woon-Puay Koh, Dietary pattern in midlife and cognitive impairment in late life: a prospective study in Chinese adults, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 110, Issue 4, October 2019, Pages 912–920, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz150
Oliver MShannon, Blossom C M Stephan, Antoneta Granic, Marleen Lentjes, Shabina Hayat, Angela Mulligan, Carol Brayne, Kay-Tee Khaw, Rafe Bundy, Sarah Aldred, Michael Hornberger, Stella-Maria Paddick, Graciela Muniz-Tererra, Anne-Marie Minihane, John C Mathers, Mario Siervo, Mediterranean diet adherence and cognitive function in older UK adults: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Norfolk (EPIC-Norfolk) Study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 110, Issue 4, October 2019, Pages 938–948, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz114
Maliszewska-Cyna E, Lynch M, Oore JJ, Nagy PM, Aubert I. The Benefits of Exercise and Metabolic Interventions for the Prevention and Early Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease.
Curr Alzheimer Res. 2017;14(1):47-60.