Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a degenerative disorder that damages brain cells, causing memory loss, impaired mental processing, behavioral changes, and more. Many experts believe that plaque deposits called amyloids, which progressively build over time and hinder neuron communication, are a major AD culprit. Additional risk factors include aging, head trauma, diabetes, and genetics. There’s no cure yet, but taking these steps may improve your odds against the disease.
Angela Lemond, RD, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Plano, Texas
Add antioxidants. Free radicals can exacerbate AD because they cause oxidative stress to brain cells. To counteract free radicals, fill at least half of your lunch and dinner plate with antioxidant-rich foods. Good choices include leafy greens like kale and spinach, crucifers such as broccoli and brussels sprouts, and bright vegetables like red peppers and roasted beets.
Boost vitamin B12. Research connects low vitamin B12 blood levels to accumulation of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to AD. Older adults should seek 2.4 mcg vitamin B12 per day through foods like lean meat, eggs, low-fat milk, and cheese. As you age, you don’t absorb B12 as well, so consider asking your doctor for a homocysteine blood test to determine your levels.
- Mind your heart. Cardiovascular health is closely tied to brain health, so take steps to protect your heart. Infuse your diet with more omega-3s, anti-inflammatory fats that protect against heart disease. Eat a handful of nuts or seeds every day, and eat fatty fish such as salmon and tuna at least twice per week.
Steve Parcell, ND, NatureMed Integrative Medicine, Boulder, Colorado
Try lipoic acid. Studies show that when people with mild AD take lipoic acid, they experience slower cognitive decline. Lipoic acid boosts production of acetylcholine (dubbed the quick-thinking chemical), a primary neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. Ask your health provider about taking 600 mg lipoic acid per day.
Take acetyl-L-carnitine. This bioavailable amino acid improves energy sources in cell mitochondria, which boosts antioxidant levels. Plus, studies suggest acetyl-Lcarnitine can optimize AD prescription drugs such as donepezil or rivastigmine by as much as 50 percent. A standard dose is 2–3 grams acetyl-L-carnitine per day.
- Consider huperzine A. An extract of Chinese club moss, huperzine A may enhance cognitive function in older people by preventing breakdown of acetylcholine, fostering better neuron communication. Consider taking 200–400 mcg huperzine A twice per day; check with your health provider.
Heather Snyder, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association, Chicago
Get moving. Research overwhelmingly shows that physical activity both reduces disease risk and slows cognitive decline in people exhibiting mild symptoms. You don’t have to go to the gym for strenuous exercise; try walking, cleaning, or doing yard work every day.
Stay mentally active. Adopting a spirit of lifelong learning can reduce Alzheimer’s risk. Consistent mental stimulation strengthens existing brain cell connections and may help generate new neural pathways. Take a course at a local college, attend lectures or plays, paint, or read.
- Be social. There is a lot that we still don’t understand about Alzheimer’s, but having an active social life may reduce risk. Access community resources to join a book club, schedule weekly coffee with friends, or volunteer. If you are diagnosed, find a support group in your area on alz.org.