Is Alzheimer’s Disease Preventable?

As human beings, we all struggle to remember or do something in our busy daily lives. For example, how many of us have forgotten a significant other’s birthday, a wedding anniversary, to turn off the stove, or take the keys with us before leaving the apartment? But being forgetful when we have a hectic schedule is different from being forgetful due to having Alzheimer’s disease. To this day, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Good news is that research has found that performing activities that promote general health can be beneficial for our brains and can possibly prevent older people from getting Alzheimer’s.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

So, long story short, Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease that initially affects one’s thoughts and memories, but as the disease progresses, it can eventually take away one’s ability to live independently. Alzheimer’s typically occurs when someone reaches their mid-60’s, but it can also occur in people who are in their mid-30s. An onset in the mid-30s is rare and is considered Early Onset Alzheimer’s. There are about 50 million people who suffer from this disease globally, and this number will go up as the global population ages.

Manage Underlying Health Conditions:

Disease states such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes can put a person at higher risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s. The exact mechanisms of how these conditions put someone at a higher risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s is not crystal clear, but is possibly due to the compromised integrity of blood vessels and nerve damage in the brain. Therefore, it is important to keep these underlying conditions under control.

Be Physically Active

It is known that exercise such as jogging, biking, and swimming can help keep blood pressure in control and improve overall health. From a mechanism standpoint, exercise can help our body build up tolerance to stress and increase its energy metabolism. Studies suggest that doing aerobic exercise for 6 months leads to an increase in brain cells that are important for memory and other functions.

Consume a Mediterranean Diet

Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet (i.e., olive oil, fish, unsaturated fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes) can lower the incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. This diet is low in sugar and rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which can help fight against inflammation and thus lower the risk of having heart disease and other complication that can later follow. Additionally, Omega 3 fatty acids are vital for brain development and the maintenance of brain function.

Consuming Only a Moderate Amount of Alcohol, Avoid Heavy Drinking:

It is established that excessive amounts of alcohol consumption can damage the brain and elevate the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Paradoxically, studies have shown that non-alcohol drinkers are also at a higher risk for having Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, literature has increasingly suggested that moderate amounts of alcohol consumption (up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men and only for adults of legal drinking age) is associated with a lowered risk of having Alzheimer’s disease. Wine, in particular, has the greatest association with a benefit. There is still ongoing research on why non-alcohol drinkers are more prone to have Alzheimer’s disease, and whether other alcoholic drinks such as beer will have comparable effect as that of wine. Ultimately, the take home message from the studies is that consuming a moderate amount of wine can possibly protect you from getting the disease but it is important to avoid heavy drinking and always drink responsibly.

Avoid/Quit Smoking

According to the literature, smoking is one of the modifiable risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The exact mechanism of how smoking leads to Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood, probably due to the introduction of stress to the brain and subsequently, inflammation. Studies demonstrated that former or current smokers have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease is earlier for former smokers than the never smokers. Moreover, studies suggested that people who never smoked have an 18% of lower chance of getting Alzheimer’s. Therefore, avoid and quitting smoke possibly prevent Alzheimer’s from knocking on your door.

Interested in quit smoking? Here is a link from some trusted sources that can get you started with the process

Reduce the Use of Medications That Interfere With Memory

It recognized that some medication like Benadryl, is associated with an increased risk of memory loss. This medication works by blocking the action of acetylcholine, a chemical that is important for memory. Studies show that people who both have genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and take medication that blocks the action of acetylcholine are at an increased risk of having Alzheimer’s disease. It would be better to avoid using these medications if possible. In the case when using these medications become inevitable, taking the lowest effective dose of these medications can possibly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. So, a thorough discussion between the patient and the doctor is needed.

Have an Adequate Amount of Sleep

Lack of sleep and poor sleep are associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, due to the accumulation of the toxic substances in the brain. Interestingly, having too little (<6 hours) and too much sleep (>9 hours) can increase one’s risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s. More research is needed to explain why prolonged sleep is not beneficial, but the bottom line is that having an adequate amount of sleep is integral to our brain health.

Be Intellectually and Socially Engaged:

High education attainment and learning new skills such as language can stimulate the brain and make more connections among the brain cells. Remaining socially active can help one to exercise memory and language which might further increase the stimulation of the brain, and thus preserving the brain function and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. So, it is never a bad idea to stay socially active and pick up new skills at any moment of our life.

The Take Home Message: Although there is not yet a cure or proven prevention to Alzheimer’s disease, we can still do something to lower our odds of having the disease by sticking to a healthy lifestyle and properly managing our underlying health conditions.

Prepared by Jialin (Christine) Dai PharmD Candidate 2023



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