December 19, 2008

Can this act of kindness reduce your risk of Alzheimer's by 89%?

The incidence of Alzheimer's disease is increasing rapidly. There still is no satisfactory treatment. Even alternatives have little impact. So prevention is absolutely vital. Now, what if I told you it's possible to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer's disease by 89%? Would you be interested?

This treatment doesn't cost anything. But it does require some effort on your part. No, it's not exercise — though exercise does help considerably. The treatment is quite simple. All you have to do is serve others.

Yep, that's all there is to it. You see, There's a lot of research on conscientiousness and longevity. Work going back into the early 1990s strongly suggests a relationship. And now we're seeing this research applied to memory.

In fact, this latest study shows that serving others not only reduces your risk of Alzheimer's by a whopping 89%, but it also reduces your risk of mild cognitive decline, as well.

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This study followed 997 older Catholic nuns, priests, and brothers without dementia at the start of the study. The researchers evaluated the Catholics with a 12-item measure of conscientiousness. Then they followed the participants for 12 years or until they died. The researchers controlled the subjects for other personality traits, activity patterns, and vascular conditions. Of course, they also controlled for age, sex, and education. Eighteen percent (176) of the patients developed Alzheimer's during the study.

The authors found that those with the highest conscientiousness scores (90th percentile) had the lowest risk. And those with the lowest scores (10th percentile), had the highest risk.

In those who died, the researchers did pathological examinations of their brains at autopsy. Conscientiousness had a measurable modifying effect on the development of neurofibrillary pathologic changes and cerebral infarction (stroke) before death. Neurofibrillary tangles are a pathological hallmark of Alzheimer's brains. This research strongly suggests that conscientiousness can markedly reduce very nasty anatomical changes in your brain while maintaining brain function.

There are a lot of nutritional steps you can take to reduce your risk of dementia, but none of them can compare to these results. Does serving others really work this well? Consider Mother Teresa. She lived a very productive life until she died at 87. Many people consider her one of the most conscientious people of all time.

I know many seniors who volunteer their time in service after they retire. They seem happier, more active, and have a higher self worth. I also see many patients who are working well into their 80s with no apparent decline at all. While my experience is observational only, I strongly believe there's a significant benefit to your health when you serve others.

This research is a compelling reason to reach out to others and help them whenever possible. And now we know that serving others also serves ourselves. Many of us make a point of helping others during the holidays. That's great. But this year, keep doing it throughout the year. It's a great way to keep your brain healthy.

Yours for better health and medical freedom,

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(10):1204-1212

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