Brain health, healthy diet and exercise

The results of research on reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease keeps strengthening the notion of eating healthy foods and exercise being key factors in protecting brain health. 

It has been known that following a healthy lifestyle can reduce brain shrinkage and lower the rates of brain tissue atrophy.  But a new study, even though small, has shown for the first time how lifestyle factors have a direct influence on the levels of abnormal protein deposits in the brain tied to Alzheimer’s disease.  Participants in the study were people who had the beginning of subtle memory loss but no diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

This study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, followed 44 patients, ages 40-85, each having some mild memory issues.  Patients who had fewer plaque and tangles which are indicative of Alzheimer’s, followed a Mediterranean diet and regularly exercised compared to those who ate a more unhealthy diet and were less active.

The scientists conducting the research at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles were pleasantly surprised to find that living a healthy lifestyle had a strong influence at the molecular level early on in patients who were exhibiting early onset dementia.  The intent of their study was to try to understand the influence of how lifestyle behaviors of diet and exercise had on changing the underlying biology linked to Alzheimer’s.

Each patient underwent a PET scan to determine the levels of protein deposits in their brains.  Researchers were looking at the levels of beta-amyloid deposits in spaces between nerve cells as well as the knotted threads of tau protein inside brain cells called tangles, both indicators of Alzheimer’s.

The results showed that patients following a healthier lifestyle of eating healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight and were physically active had lower levels of plaques and tangles.

These findings are exciting to researchers as they are encouraged to research if other lifestyle factors such as stress and mental health also play a role in affecting the health of the brain and the development of Alzheimer’s.

Besides eating a Mediterranean diet and regular exercise, the Alzheimer’s Association has a list of 10 ways to love your brain:

·         Exercise your body

·         Exercise your brain by taking a class

·         Don’t smoke

·         Get your blood pressure and diabetes under control

·         Eat a healthful diet

·         Sleep well. Treat insomnia and sleep apnea

·         Get help for depression and anxiety

·         Be socially active

·         Challenge your mind with games, art and hobbies

·         Protect your head.  Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls