Wondering how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and keep your brain healthy? Science is showing that diet and lifestyle changes CAN protect against cognitive decline. Learn what threatens your brain health and specific foods for brain health that you can start eating now.
By Neal Barnard, MD • A version of this article was originally published in Naked Food Magazine
Alzheimer’s disease is the fastest growing health threat in the United States, according to a 2013 landmark report from researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle.
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Fight Memory Loss with Diet and Lifestyle Changes
The latest scientific findings show that diet and lifestyle changes can create a barrier against cognitive decline.
Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project analyzed the diets of thousands of people over many years. The findings are groundbreaking.
Saturated “bad” fat — found in milk, cheese, and meat — is strongly linked to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, increasing risk more than threefold. Trans fats increase risk fivefold. Avoiding these fats can cut risk dramatically.
Foods rich in vitamin E, such as broccoli, walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds, also reduced dementia risk by as much as 70%.
Other studies show that foods overly rich in iron or copper can promote cognitive loss.
And also that folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 may help protect the memory.
Combining this with physical and mental exercise and avoiding harmful toxins, such as aluminum in supplements or cookware, can maximize protection for the brain.
5 Things That Threaten Your Brain Health
- Saturated fats found in meats, dairy products, and eggs appear to encourage the production of beta-amyloid plaques within the brain. The Chicago Health and Aging Study reported in the Archives of Neurology in 2003 that people consuming the most saturated fat had more than triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people who generally avoided these foods.
- Aluminum has been found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, so it pays to err on the side of caution. Avoid uncoated aluminum cookware and read labels when buying baking powder, antacids, and processed foods.
- Excess copper impairs cognition — even in mid-adulthood — and ends up in the plaques of Alzheimer’s disease. It comes from copper pipes and nutritional supplements.
- Excess iron can build up in the brain, sparking the production of damaging free radicals. Sources of excess iron include cast-iron cookware, meats, and iron supplements.
- Trans fats, found in doughnuts and snack pastries, have been shown to increase Alzheimer’s risk more than fivefold. These “bad fats” raise cholesterol levels and apparently increase production of the beta-amyloid protein that collects in plaques in the brain as Alzheimer’s disease begins.
Power Foods for Brain Health
- Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy nerves and brain cells. While many people have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from foods, B12 in supplements is highly absorbable. Together, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 eliminate homocysteine, which can build up in the bloodstream — rather like factory waste — and damage the brain.
- Blueberries and grapes get their deep colors from anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants shown to improve learning and recall in studies at the University of Cincinnati.
- Beans and chickpeas have vitamin B6 and folate, as well as protein and calcium, with no saturated fat or trans fat.
- Sweet potatoes are the dietary staple of Okinawans, the longest-lived people on Earth, who are also known for maintaining mental clarity into old age. Sweet potatoes are extremely rich in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant.
- Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E, which has been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Especially good sources are almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and flaxseed. Just 1 ounce — a small handful — each day is plenty.
- Green leafy vegetables provide iron in a form that is more absorbable when the body needs more and less absorbable when you already have plenty, protecting you from iron overload which can harm the brain. Green vegetables are also loaded with folate, an important, brain-protecting B-vitamin. (Editor’s note: For more about the best way to get the iron you need, including eating leafy greens, read our article here.)
Editor’s Note: Want to Learn More About Using Food to Protect Your Brain?
- Dr. Michael Greger on foods to prevent Alzheimer’s and keep your brain healthy.
- Ocean Robbins on why coffee could be good for your heart and your brain.
- Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, MD, on how to prevent 90% of Alzheimer’s cases.
And you may wish to check out Dr. Neal Barnard’s brilliant book, Power Foods for the Brain. He lays out a three-step plan to protect your mind and strengthen your memory.
Tell us in the comments below:
What foods for brain health do you enjoy?
What other lifestyle changes do you practice to prevent dementia and cognitive decline?
Featured Image: iStock.com/Rimma_Bondarenko