If Alzheimer's disease runs in your family, you're destined to lose your mind as you age, right? After all, Alzheimer's disease is genetic. Well, Alzheimer's may run in your genes, but that doesn't mean your family history will determine your mental future.
It's true that there's one genetic factor which raises your risk of getting this terrible disease. It's the presence of the apoE-4 gene, which is involved in cholesterol metabolism. It's the most important genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Your doctor can test for the apoE-4 gene if you have concerns or a family member with the disease. However, evidence suggests this isn't necessary.
Since this genetic trait is involved in cholesterol metabolism, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that your cholesterol levels affect your brain. But it might surprise you to find out that high cholesterol will actually prevent Alzheimer's!
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That's right! High HDL (or healthy) cholesterol has been found to protect your brain from dementia.
One study on 4,000 healthy women found that those with the highest levels of HDL at mid-life had half the risk of coming down with Alzheimer's. The researchers were at a loss for explanations. However, they suggested that HDL might help to clear out cholesterol deposits from the arteries, improving circulation to the brain.
In another study, this one with 1,500 people, elevated total cholesterol and high blood pressure were found to be strong causes of Alzheimer's. The researchers also discovered that the risk is lower if these two factors don't develop until later in life.
More importantly, the Alzheimer's risk of these preventable factors exceeds the risk of carrying the genetic marker. This should tell you that the way you take care of your body carries more weight than genetics!
In fact, several lifestyle changes can greatly reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's. A Canadian study on 6,500 people, ages 65 and over, found drinking moderate amounts of wine and coffee, exercising regularly, and using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were all associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
And the news from these researchers gets even better. They discovered that a family history of Alzheimer's didn't carry a statistically significant risk of dementia. That means the only known genetic factor is the apoE-4 gene - and you don't have to worry about this if you have a healthy lifestyle.
Action to Take
(1) Exercise! This is consistent with what I've told you in the past. Regular exercise is a vital part of preventing Alzheimer's and many other diseases. It helps increase your circulation, which is great for your entire body.
(2) Reduce alcohol consumption to one glass of wine per day, preferably red wine.
(3) A small Japanese study has confirmed a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease from coffee consumption. While I have concerns about wanton coffee consumption, there are phytochemicals in it, like in tea, which may provide beneficial effects. I recommend limiting coffee to no more than two cups a day, and the product should be "free trade" or organic coffee. If you can't find organic coffee, I've been told by a reliable source that Folgers coffee is grown at such high altitudes that, while not technically organic, it's not sprayed. Apparently, the attacking insects can't survive at these altitudes. I haven't verified this, but I thought it was interesting!
(4) I've found several supplements that may raise HDL. These include niacin, policosanol (I recommend Healthy Resolve's Advanced Cholesterol Formula - call 800-728-2288 for more information), turmeric, and curcumin. However, the best advice I can give you is to watch your diet! Increasing intakes of natural protectors, such as the soluble fibers found in onions, apples, citrus, grapes, legumes, and other fruits, is the healthiest way to protect your brainpower.
(5) While anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) have been associated with reduced risk, please don't go out and load up on Motrin or the like. The benefits observed here are most likely due to NSAIDs alteration of inflammatory processes. You can naturally accomplish the same inflammation reduction with no risk simply by raising your ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6. I've spoken about the importance of this ratio many times in these pages. (Not only are high levels of omega-6 fatty acids dangerous - they can actually kill you! There's a great article on my website with all the details. Check it out at www.secondopinionnewsletter.com. Access is free for subscribers to my newsletter.) Fish oil, cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, and now Neuromins for vegetarians should provide the means to increase healthy omega-3 consumption.
You don't have to get Alzheimer's!
Ref: JAMA, 2002 June, 26;287(24):3223-9.