Our pollution-laden environment is not kind to brains. Thus the widespread fear folks have of losing their web of mental connections.
Alzheimer's disease is hitting more people in their 40s and 50s, while one in 10 of those over 65 develop the illness. So it pays to get in touch with the latest thinking on how to lower your risk early in life.
Being proactive is even more important if you have bad genes. You're much more likely to develop an ailing brain if you've got a relative with the disease. Women are more vulnerable, as are people of African or Hispanic descent. Alzheimer's is also linked to high blood pressure, head trauma and stroke.
Whether or not Alzheimer's can be prevented is a matter of debate. But there's evidence that you can protect yourself to a degree, no matter your inheritance or health issues. First, ditch your cigarettes . S mokers have four times the rate of Alzheimer's as non-smokers. After your tobacco, throw out your margarine and any foods containing hydrogenated oils. These contain trans fatty acids that interfere with your brain's ability to produce the energy it needs.
And that's a lot of energy - 25 per cent of your bodily output! Keep your brain well supplied by shunning the energy drains catalyzed by white flour, sugar and coffee, and sticking to the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, legumes and vegetables to fuel your engines.
Doing regular cerebral exercise and daily meditation lowers levels of both damaging free radicals and cortisol, a stress hormone that damages brain tissue.
What the experts say
"The most famous fruit for helping your brain is blueberries . Amongst vegetables, spinach is good. It's important in this day and age to have supplements, since locally grown, organic food that's cooked leisurely is not usually available. Yoga postures and breathing techniques , done on a regular basis, stimulate the nervous system and the glandular, blood and energy systems. Yogis last a long time; their mental faculties are pretty good. Yogis teach lots of meditations geared to building brain longevity."
YOGI AKAL , director, International Centre for Yogic Arts and Sciences, Toronto
"People who engage in more cognitively demanding activities have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's. The thinking is that those activities don't prevent Alzheimer's but prolong the period of time before a person develops it. Find an activity you like that makes you think hard about something, solve problems or remember things, and do it regularly. It could be playing chess, going to a museum, reading books, or learning music."
ANGELA TROYER , psychologist, memory and aging program, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, Toronto
"Aluminum has been linked with Alzheimer's. Avoid aluminum cooking utensils and foil . Some antacids, antiperspirants, baking powders, non-dairy creamers and table salt additives contain aluminum as well. A diet high in whole grains, legumes and leafy greens provides magnesium , which competes with aluminum for absorption. Zinc slows down degenerative brain damage - food sources are raw pumpkin seeds , fish and shellfish , brewer's yeast and nuts . (To protect the brain from toxins) a person can use cleansing herbs for a couple of weeks at a time, a couple of times per year. Simmer dandelion root for five to 10 minutes, then add a couple of teaspoons of nettle leaves and oatstraw , which nourish the nervous system, and let steep 10 minutes. Take one cup before each meal."
BRUCE ROBERTSON , medical herbalist, Toronto
"People who use anti-inflammatory herbs or drugs in their younger years have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's. From a nutritional point of view, vitamin C (2,000 mg daily) and E (800 IU mixed tocopherols daily) decrease free radicals. All the B vitamins , but especially B12 , help maintain proper brain chemistry. Essential fatty acids , especially fish oils , are incredibly important for decreasing inflammation. Turmeric is a very important herb for decreasing risk of Alzheimer's. It increases acetylcholine, the main neurotransmitter involved in memory and cognitive functions. Eating turmeric (in curry) is a good idea - it's also got anti-cancer effects."
ERIN TRUSCOTT-BROCK , naturopathic doctor, Toronto
"The four pillars of brain longevity are nutrition - including memory-specific nutrients - stress management, physical and mental exercise, and drugs and hormones when indicated. Studies of Alzheimer's patients show they have a shrunken hippocampus, the brain's memory centre. The stress hormone cortisol injures and kills brain cells, especially in the hippocampus. I've seen patients with Alzheimer's who developed the illness after many years of a very stressful lifestyle. Daily medition is one of the most powerful ways to lower cortisol levels."
DHARMA SINGH KHALSA , MD, director, Alzheimer's Prevention Foundation International, author, Brain Longevity and The Better Memory Kit, Tucson, AZ