And how to treat them naturally
Hot off the presses, as they used to say in the pre-Internet days, I’m excited to share some important news with you. News that will help you say “thanks for the memories” this holiday season and year-round.
Researchers at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, recently published the first comprehensive analysis detailing the most important risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
And you can count these risk factors on the fingers of your hands.
The researchers analyzed 323 studies and found there are nine main elements that determine if you’re likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in your lifetime.
The good news? You can control all of these factors with natural approaches.
That’s right. You can slash your risk of Alzheimer’s through lifestyle changes like modifying your diet, taking dietary supplements, and exercising your body and brain.
But, let’s stop here for a moment and ask an important question.
Why has less than 2% of research focused on the REAL solution for Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is “public enemy No. 1” of brain diseases. The government dedicated two “decades of the brain” researching AD. And there are nearly 17,000 studies altogether on AD. So why did only 323 studies actually investigate risk factors?
As I often report, big pharma and the U.S. government spent billions of dollars on thousands of studies “barking up the wrong tree.” So far—they’ve followed flawed theories about what causes the brain cell changes in Alzheimer’s patients. And they’ve developed expensive, failed drug treatments following these flawed theories.
So, why is it so few studies “branched out” to consider real preventative factors?
Well, for one, prevention doesn’t always make money. So big pharma isn’t interested in it (unless they can invent a “risk factor” like cholesterol for heart disease and make everyone take a drug to prevent the risk factor—although it may never actually prevent the disease itself).
The government likes to talk about prevention—and keeps thousands of bureaucrats on the payroll to fight more unwinnable wars with the wrong weapons, whether the nearly 50-year war on cancer, or the new war on antibiotic infections. Yet when it comes to brain disorders, after the first “decade of the brain” failed, all they can do is to promote another “decade of the brain.” How many decades will that take?
Thankfully, the new, first-time analysis finally revealed nine simple risk factors that account for two-thirds (66 percent) of AD cases. Today, I reveal all nine of these risk factors. And I also give you some specific steps you can take to combat each one. So let’s get started.
No. 1: Your waistline may be sending your brain a warning
This factor is hardly a surprise, considering obesity is a risk factor for other serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. One reason obesity puts you at risk is because it is associated with chronic inflammation. And research traces most chronic health problems back to chronic inflammation. Based on emerging evidence, it appears this connection holds true for Alzheimer’s as well.
Interestingly, the UC San Francisco researchers found that you have a higher risk of developing AD if you’re obese in mid-life compared to later life. But, of course, it’s never a good idea to be obese—at any time. Most doctors consider a body-mass index or BMI of 30 or higher, you’re obese. Unfortunately, the BMI is an incomplete measure of excess weight or overall health. But ultimately the kind of excess weight that can harm you is obvious simply by taking an honest look in the mirror—and at your habits. While it takes time to effectively lose excessive weight, you can start controlling the dietary factors associated with obesity at any time, even during the holidays.
What you can do: Avoid sugary foods and drinks, and cut back on empty carbs like white bread, rice and pasta. Instead, follow a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. And make sure you eat some protein with every meal.
Another advantage of the Mediterranean diet is that it’s loaded with two key specific nutrients that researchers also found to be highly preventive against AD: vitamins C and E.
Vitamin C, of course, is a powerful antioxidant. It’s vital for fighting oxidative stress in the brain—one hallmark of Alzheimer’s. You can get this essential vitamin from many fruits and vegetables, and I also recommend supplementing with 250 mg of vitamin C twice a day.
Vitamin E has a well-deserved reputation as a brain booster, in part because of its ability to reduce inflammation. Last year, I reported on a study that showed that people who took vitamin E had dramatic improvements in their dementia, while those who took the AD drug memantine had no improvements.2
You’ll find vitamin E in many Mediterranean diet foods, including nuts, seafood, and plant oils. You can also supplement with 200-400 IUs of vitamin E a day.
Along with diet, exercise is also key—not just for preventing obesity, but also for independently decreasing your risk of Alzheimer’s. In fact, a recent study of 97 healthy older men and women with a genetic predisposition for AD found that those who exercised regularly lowered their risk of AD to the same level as people without the genetic predisposition.3
And as usual it didn’t take a lot of exercise to accomplish this feat. The study participants walked briskly, jogged, or swam for a minimum of 15 minutes just three or more times a week. Or they did chores like housework or yard work for 45 minutes most days of the week. Moderate exercise, healthy diet and weight loss will also help lower high blood pressure another risk factor [see item 6 below]
No. 2: Is your brain a cognitive “couch potato”?
Research links low educational status with a number of risk factors for chronic diseases in general. And I’ve reported about several studies showing that the longer you stay in school and the better grades you get, the lower your risk of developing AD.
But if your school days are long over, don’t worry. I think there’s a broader message here: Keeping your mind active can lower your risk of AD. When you ponder problems, learn new information or languages, or recall memories, you maintain and create circuits throughout your brain that help keep it active and healthy. And less prone to disease, including Alzheimer’s.
What you can do: Just like you make time to exercise your body, spend some time each day on brain workouts. Crossword puzzles and other brain teasers are a good way to challenge yourself. But there are even simpler routine ways to keep your brain active throughout the day.
Do arithmetic problems in your head instead of using a calculator. Dial a friend’s phone number from memory rather than punching a button on your smartphone. Learn and practice a new craft or skill, like gardening or woodworking.
Of course, there’s certainly no reason why you can’t pursue higher education—no matter how old you are. And you don’t necessarily have to enroll in a university Ph.D. program. Even taking a class at a local community center to learn a new language can help protect you against AD.
No. 3: Mind your mood
Recent research has discovered an association between dementia and depression. In one large study, researchers found that the participants who developed dementia had a higher level of depression symptoms prior to their dementia diagnosis.4
The study included 1,764 older people. None of them had dementia or depression at the beginning of the study, but over an eight-year period, 18 percent of them developed dementia. The participants were screened for depression once a year, which is how the researchers made the link between depression and dementia.
The link between these two diseases suggests that like dementia, depression may actually affect the brain tissue itself. Another recent study linked disruption of the microbiome by antibiotics to increased risk of anxiety and depression [see DD December 2014]
What you can do: I’ve reported several times about how antidepressant drugs don’t alleviate depression in most people, but they also have severe side effects. And there is no data as to whether treating depression with drugs has any effect on the risk of developing AD. Also, avoid drugs that disrupt the microbiome like antibiotics and keep healthy probiotics in your diet from foods like sauerkraut and dairy products like cheese and yogurt.
Fortunately, there are many non-drug treatments for depression. You can find the ones that work best for you or a loved one by taking my Emotional Type quiz at www.drmicozzi.com, and consulting my book Your Emotional Type. (You can order a copy of this book by visiting my website, www.drmicozzi.com, or by calling 1-800-682-7319 and asking for order code GOV2RCAA.)
In addition, there are a variety of studies showing that vitamin D can help alleviate depression and elevate mood, especially now during the winter. And research also shows that low levels of this essential nutrient significantly increase your risk of dementia. I recommend 10,000 IU per day of vitamin D, especially during this time of year.
And, as I wrote in the October Insiders’ Cures (“Feed your brain: What you should—and shouldn’t—eat for better mental health”), research shows that eating more meat, organ meats, seafood, eggs, and nuts can help alleviate depression and keep your brain healthy.
No. 4 and No. 5: Keep your brain’s blood and oxygen supply flowing
Homocysteine is an amino acid your body uses to build and maintain tissue. But too much homocysteine contributes to the narrowing of carotid arteries. And the carotid arteries supply the brain with oxygen, energy, and nutrients. So it makes sense that high homocysteine levels play a role in the development of AD.
But unfortunately, the medical mainstream mistakenly focuses on cholesterol and largely ignores homocysteine’s impact on arteries and blood circulation.
What you can do: The best treatment for elevated homocysteine levels is B vitamins, particularly folate. I recommend taking a high-quality vitamin B complex every day that contains at least the following dosages: 50 mg each of thiamine, riboflavin (B2), niacin/niacinamide, B6, and pantothenic acid, plus 400 micrograms of folic acid/folate, 12 mcg of B12, and 100 mcg of biotin.
You can also eat B-rich foods, including meat, seafood, dairy products, and eggs. And don’t forget beets. These root veggies are great sources of betaine, a natural compound that helps lower homocysteine in your body and brain. For more about betaine and other supplements that can keep your homocysteine levels healthy, see my article “The heart hazard throwing aging into overdrive” that appeared in last month’s issue of Insiders’ Cures.
No. 6: Rein in high blood pressure
Researchers are finding strong links to chronic high blood pressure and AD. In fact, there’s growing evidence that if you have high blood pressure in midlife (but not at older ages), you’re more likely to develop Alzheimer’s in later life.5
Just as the heart needs healthy blood circulation to provide adequate oxygen and energy, so does the brain. When your blood pressure is out of whack, that circulation becomes compromised. In fact, according to the study I mentioned above, impaired circulation resulting from high blood pressure may actually lead to brain neuron loss. And it can make Alzheimer’s worse by raising oxidative stress and increasing chronic inflammation in the brain.
What you can do: First of all, don’t go overboard trying to lower your blood pressure. I’ve told you before about research showing that slightly elevated blood pressure (up to 159/99 mm Hg), especially later in life, most likely doesn’t raise your risk of cardiovascular disease. It appears the same would be true for AD as well.
And, as I wrote in the Aug. 11, 2015 Daily Dispatch (“This new dementia study will shock you”), research shows that people who first develop high blood pressure only in their 80s or 90s may actually be protected against dementia. Perhaps because this increased pressure helps ensure adequate blood flow to the brain and other organs.
However, if your blood pressure is 160/100 or higher, it should be lowered via the older, proven, safe drugs.
Of course, you may not needs drugs at all if you eat properly and manage your stress levels. For specific strategies, refer to my report The Insider’s Secret to Conquering High Blood Pressure & Protecting Your Heart, which you can download for free by logging on to the Subscriber area of my website, www.drmicozzi.com.
No. 7: A weak body can lead to a weak brain
Physical frailty is not often considered in typical medical assessments. In fact, most people don’t even know how to define it. One study found that frail people have three or more of the following physical characteristics: exhaustion, unintentional weight loss, weakness, slow walking speed, and low levels of physical activity.6
There is some evidence linking physical frailty to AD. It makes sense—if you’re physically frail, chances are you’re cognitively frail too.
What you can do: Much of this factor has to do with diet. Eating some protein and getting enough calcium with every meal helps maintain muscle mass, skeletal health, and vitality. These are all associated not only with brain health, but also longevity.
You must get calcium and protein from a healthy diet, but you can also fight frailty with supplements. Unfortunately, the same doctors who don’t understand frailty also don’t know much about natural supplements that can improve vitality.
I recommend taking dandelion extract and the South African herb aspal daily to help stay physically and cognitively strong. You can find these ingredients in some high-quality dietary supplements. Or in water-soluble powders which you can add to water or another beverage. I recommend products that contain 400 mg each of dandelion and aspal, as well as blueberry which has its own brain benefits [make sure to see article in the upcoming January INC]
No. 8: Lighting up could be dimming your mind
The UC San Francisco researchers found that current, but not former, smoking is a risk factor for AD. Smoking is thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s in the same ways it does to cardiovascular disease.
First of all, excessive smoking can increase your homocysteine levels. It can also help create arterial stiffness, which contributes to the buildup of the plaque in your brain that’s associated with AD. And finally, smoking may cause oxidative stress and kill your brain cells—both of which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.
Of course, in the all-or-nothing world of government public health, nobody ever considers the science that shows light smoking appears to have benefits for healthy weight, Parkinson’s disease, and other factors that may potentially be relevant to AD.
What you can do: Quit or cut down on your smoking. Aim for half a pack or less of cigarettes a day. For some people, this goal is more realistic than going cold turkey and giving up smoking altogether. As always, the best health recommendations are ones that people can actually follow and achieve.
No. 9: High blood sugar shrinks your brain
Dementia has such a strong link to blood sugar that back in December 2012, I suggested it could be considered “Type 3 diabetes.”
Research shows that people with high blood sugar actually have shrinkage in the parts of their brains associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, one study found that people with type 2 diabetes are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with AD compared to the general population.7
What you can do: As you’re likely well aware, the best ways to lower your risk of diabetes are to avoid sugar and carbs in your diet, and maintain a healthy weight.
It’s also a good idea to drink coffee regularly. Research shows that only two cups of coffee a day can lower your diabetes risk by 12 percent.8 And the UC San Francisco researchers listed coffee as one of their top dietary factors that offer strong protection against AD. No doubt because coffee contains constituents that directly support brain cells and healthy blood circulation in the brain.
If you do have diabetes, it’s key to manage your blood sugar. I recommend the drug metformin (originally from an ancient European herbal remedy called French lilac) to control blood sugar long-term. Herbs and spices like cinnamon (a holiday favorite) and curcumin also help lower blood sugar, but should not be used to replace metformin to manage diabetes.
On the other hand, of course, you may remember the breathless news reports that came out a couple of years ago, warning people that metformin increases the risk of dementia. What those reports didn’t mention is why the drug appeared to be associated with cognitive problems.
Metformin decreases absorption of vitamin B12, which is a critical nutrient for neurological health.
So if you take metformin, don’t forget to supplement with a high-quality vitamin B complex that includes at least 50 mg each of thiamine, riboflavin (B2), niacin/niacinamide, B6, and pantothenic acid, plus 400 micrograms of folic acid/folate, 12 mcg of B12, and 100 mcg of biotin.
Magnesium deficiency is also a common problem in diabetics. I recommend 200 mg a day. And I’ve also long recommended the herb berberine, which has significant brain-protecting benefits in addition to its ability to help lower blood sugar. Take 300-400 mg a day. There’s also a strong link between diabetes and low levels of vitamin D, so make sure you get 10,000 IU of vitamin D a day.
And whatever you do, avoid statins! The evidence is so pervasive that these dangerous drugs can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, the FDA now requires statin manufacturers to disclose this risk on their product labels. (To find out how to protect your heart naturally—and repair the damage statins do to your body—refer to my special report, The Insider’s Guide for a Heart-Healthy and Statin-Free Life. You can order a copy of this report by visiting my website or by calling 1-800-682-7319 and asking for order code GOV2RCAB.)
When big pharma isn’t busy trying to get everyone to take statins, it runs around trying to develop new drugs based on flawed, failed theories about what causes AD. But fortunately, you don’t have to wait around for their next “breakthrough.” Take your health into your own hands with these nine simple steps, and you won’t have to worry about AD.
1“Meta-analysis of modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2015 Aug 20. pii: jnnp-2015-310548.
2“Effect of Vitamin E and Memantine on Functional Decline in Alzheimer Disease – The TEAM-AD VA Cooperative Randomized Trial,” JAMA. 2014; 311(1): 33-34.
3“Physical activity reduces hippocampal atrophy in elders at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.” Front Aging Neurosci. 2014; 6: 61.
4“Clinical-pathologic study of depressive symptoms and cognitive decline in old age.” Neurology August 19, 2014 vol. 83 no. 8 702-709.
5“Association between chronic blood pressure changes and development of Alzheimer’s disease.” J Alzheimers Dis. 2012;32(3):753-63.
6“Nutrition, frailty, and Alzheimer’s disease.” Front Aging Neurosci. 2014; 6: 221.
7“Higher normal fasting plasma glucose is associated with hippocampal atrophy: The PATH Study,” Neurology 2012; 79:1,019-1,026.
8“Coffee and caffeine intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis of prospective studies.” Eur J Nutr. 2014 Feb;53(1):25-38.