Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Natural Prevention

Elderly man seated in a wheelchair smiling and touching his nurse's hand.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes dementia and is especially common among aging populations. 1 2 The disease is characterized by neuro-inflammation, blood-brain barrier disruption, hypometabolism, and a number of other pathological changes. 3 Diagnosis is made by the assessment of biomarkers and cognitive function and by ruling out other conditions that cause cognitive decline. 4 

Alzheimer’s disease often develops slowly, over the course of multiple decades. During this preclinical stage of the disease, no noticeable symptoms are present. 5  Gradual cognitive decline is a natural part of the aging process, but there are several lifestyle factors that can contribute to a more rapid decline into the development of Alzheimer’s disease. These factors include smoking, lack of physical exercise, a highly processed diet, and a lack of activities that stimulate the brain, including intellectual and social pursuits. 6 By remaining aware of these factors and actively adding effective preventative measures to your regular routine, you can decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and disease progression.

Prevention

Meditation

Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and integrating a regular meditation practice into your daily routine is one tool to reduce the risk. 7 Chronic stress may damage the hippocampus and other parts of the brain through the release of stress hormones which boost neurotoxic properties. 8 With this knowledge, it is important to do everything that we can to manage stress in our daily lives, and 10-15 minutes of meditation each day is a simple, proven way to do so.9

Social Connection

Social interaction provides intellectual stimulation and has been shown to prevent feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression. 10  Social connection also reduces stress and promotes cognitive development.  11 Studies show that those who maintain interpersonal relationships and social activity, along with other healthy lifestyle choices, are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who do not. 12 

Physical Activity

Physical exercise can increase hippocampus neurogenesis (the generation of functional neurons), which helps to maintain the brain through aging. 13 Physical activity also supports good cardiovascular health, which can contribute to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. 14 As we age, maintaining regular physical activity may seem more difficult, but it is particularly essential to integrate regular, gentle exercise into your daily routine as you get older in order to maintain both physical and cognitive health.

Nutritional Diet

A  diet rich in whole foods, antioxidants and healthy fats can play a major part in decreasing a person’s risk level for Alzheimer’s disease. 15  Conditions like hypertension and obesity can exacerbate Alzheimer’s, so maintaining nutrition that helps prevent and manage these conditions is an important factor in Alzheimer’s prevention as well. 16 Talk to a licensed naturopathic doctor for help in developing a nutrition plan that is right for you.

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