As we age, our system begins to show greater signs of wear and decline. This is a grim and challenging reality faced by all aging adults. Whether we choose to ignore it, embrace it, or fight like hell, we all experience decline as natural part of the aging process.
As the population of baby-boomer generation arrives at older adulthood there is about to be a spike in diseases like Alzheimer’s. Number of people with Alzheimer’s alone is expected to more than double in the next couple of decades.1 So, health maintenance and longevity are important subjects to consider whether you are of the baby-boomer generation or you are their child.
Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, start as simple forgetfulness in many adults. It can balloon into difficulty thinking, planning, inability to do daily functions, forgetting names of loved ones or recent events, and until there is complete loss of independence.
As almost 80% of cases of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, this condition gets a lot of attention. However, conditions like Parkinson’s, Lewy-body disease, vascular or other forms of dementia are also prevalent in society. Each of them have different mechanism and must be treated differently.
Prevention starts in the womb:
If you are a soon to be mother, prevention for your baby can start in the womb. The brain is mostly a fatty organ. The nerve channels are insulated by myelin sheaths and nerve themselves are formed by fatty membranes. These structures protect the activity of the nervous system and allow it to function efficiently.
Childhood is called the Kapha (Water/Earth) phase of life. This is a time for building the tissues and making them resilient for the life ahead. Thus, one of the most nourishing foods is healthy fat. Eating healthy fats during pregnancy has shown to help protect against Alzheimer’s later in life.2
Sources healthy fats include fish oils, eating cold water fish (like salmon, cod, halibut, trout), olive oil, sesame oil, nuts and seeds, Avocado.
Studies found that Fatty acids improve learning and memory from a very young age and contributed to maintenance of these functions later in life as well.3 Therefore, preventing the occurrence of dementia.
Dietary approach preventing dementia:
As we age, we enter the Vata (Air/space) phase of life. There is an overall dryness, wear-down, and roughness that starts to affect our tissues. This might be experienced in aching joints, fatigue, muscle weakness well before cognitive decline is perceived. To balance such dryness, using foods and lifestyles that provide greater moistness, suppleness, steadiness, and strength to our physiology are important. The balancing elements for Vata are considered Kapha (Water/Earth) and a healthy Pitta (Fire)
Studies show that diet rich in Vitamin B12, Folate, Vitamin E, Vitamin C have a protective and beneficial effects on the brain.4 While B-vitamins and folate contribute the healthy metabolism (Pitta) of the body. Vitamins like Vitamin E, C, D, A provide to the soothing, antioxidant, and protective effect of Kapha.
In terms of foods, diet that is rich vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, lean and digestible proteins are most beneficial for health. Some go to food items include:5
Vegetables: Squashes (butternut, pumpkin, acorn, spaghetti, opo, snakegourd, etc.), Roots (beets, sunchokes, jicama, kohlrabi, turnips, parsnips, etc.), Greens (kale, chard, collard, arugula, spinach, etc.)
Fruits: cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple, oranges and other citrus fruits, berries, peaches, apricots, figs, mangos, and more.
Healthy fats: eating cold water fish (like salmon, cod, halibut, trout) olive oil, sesame oil, nuts and seeds, Avocado.
Lean/digestible protein: lentils (red, green, mung, yellow), tofu, cold water fish, chicken and turkey.
While all these foods have beneficial qualities, diet must be chosen based on your health needs. For examples, eating too much fruit when you are a diabetic may contribute to blood sugar related issues OR eating lentils or tofu if you cannot digest beans might cause digestive problems and other inflammatory imbalances contributing to further degeneration.
Lifestyle activities to prevent dementia:
A hallmark of dementia is the loss of lightness, flexibility, ease to processing, thinking, acting on intentions, and more. The loss of ease and flow of cognitive functions can be maintained or regained by undertaking exercises and activities that stimulate mental activity.
These activities include:5
Physical activities: brisk walking, 40 mins 3-5 time per day; balance exercises like squats, lunges, single leg stand, single leg stand, and more; water aerobics; and swimming are great options.
Social engagement: time with friends and family can be helpful in maintaining awareness of people and environment. It causes us to stay present and engaged. Also, it is fulfilling and joyful to spend time with pleasant company, it adds zest to life and contributes a will to live well.
Cognitive challenge: trivia, puzzles, games, and even some individual or team sports can be very beneficial to maintain hand-eye coordination, thinking, problem-solving, and decision making skills. While creative projects also add a dimension of imagination and innovation to these cognitive functions.
In more simple terms, to live a healthy long life we must live a uplifting and fulfilling life. To live well, we must play and have joy to fill our days more often. This is medicine we are sorely missing in our present times.
If you choose to do the things mentioned here, do them not from the perspective of prevention or treatment. Instead do them to make the most of life through your choices and actions on a daily basis.
1) Alzheimer’s Impact Movement “Factsheet”, published by the Alzheimer’s Association, link to: https://act.alz.org/site/DocServer/2012_Costs_Fact_Sheet_version_2.pdf?docID=7161
2) Temple University Health System “High-fat diet in utero protects against Alzheimer’s later.” Published by Science Direct, link to: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190827084717.htm
3) Antonio Di Meco, Jaroslav Jelinek, Elisabetta Lauretti, Mary Elizabeth Curtis, Jean-Pierre J. Issa, Domenico Praticό. Gestational high fat diet protects 3xTg offspring from memory impairments, synaptic dysfunction, and brain pathology. Molecular Psychiatry, 2019.
4) Williams JW, et al. “Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline.” Published by Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 2010.
5) Barnard ND, et al. “Dietary and lifestyle guidelines for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.” Neurobiology of Aging, Vol 35, (2014), PG S74-S78