We still don’t know much about Alzheimer’s disease, but there’s ongoing research about prevention, causes, and cure. However, we know that your diet can have an impact on your chances of getting this disease. Can a plant-based diet prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death among people aged 65 or older. In 2018, 5.7 million Americans were living with this type of dementia. It’s a global problem, as 44 million people over the world have Alzheimer’s disease.
Although there is no known cure, there’s growing evidence about prevention. A healthy, nutritiously balanced, plant-based diet could very well prevent the disease. While some of the risk factors are uncontrollable, diet is one thing that’s under your control against Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a continuous condition resulting from brain cell damage or degeneration. It causes dementia, which is a loss of memory, thinking, and social skills. As a result, a person with Alzheimer’s is not able to function normally and independently.
This is a progressive disease and can take years, getting worse gradually. The level of damage to the brain cells also varies. Symptoms can also vary from person to person, in terms of the severity. A lot of the time, symptoms appear in very early stages, but people don’t always notice.
The main symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss. It appears very slowly and worsens with time. For instance, people with the disease may have trouble remembering things sometimes.
Interestingly, the person forgetting things may not even find it odd. However, people around them may be able to notice their forgetfulness. According to the Mayo Clinic, some signs of memory loss due to Alzheimer’s include:
- Asking the same question again in a short period
- Forgetting the location of things or addresses
- Forgetting names, even of close relatives and friends
- Having trouble identifying objects
Some of these memory loss indicators may not appear until well into the advancement of the disease. The forgetting of places and names of things is usually a sign of severe impairment of memory.
In addition to memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease can also impact thinking and decision making. People with Alzheimer’s are typically not able to concentrate for long. They will lose their ability to multitask and carry out tasks they would usually do, like paying bills or doing groceries.
They can also make irregular choices like wear wrong season clothes or wear them inside out. It will also become difficult for them to deal with issues, as their problem-solving skills deplete. In more severe cases of Alzheimer’s, an individual may even forget basic things like dressing up or using the restroom.
Alzheimer’s Disease Causes and Risk Factors
There’s a general consensus in the science community that the causes behind Alzheimer’s disease are genetic, environmental, and to some extent, lifestyle-based as well.
What exactly causes the disease inside the bran is still not fully clear. However, we do know that the problem arises with neurons that results in some toxic events inside the brain. These neurons get damaged. A protein in the brain apparently fails, causing all this mayhem.
Here are the main causes of Alzheimer’s Disease:
Age is definitely a cause of Alzheimer’s, but it may not necessarily be the direct cause. It’s very rare for the disease to appear in young or even middle-aged people. Most of the diagnosed cases are over the age of 65, which explains why age is a primary cause, perhaps along with other causes.
Memory and cognitive decline can happen with age, but in people with Alzheimer’s, it happens at a faster rate and with more severity. In people aged 85 or older, the risk is even higher.
Those who have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease are at risk of getting the disease too. This is based on the data related to the diagnosis of this disease. If more than one family member has it, the risk is even higher.
As indicated by family history, genetics do play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have confirmed that two types of genes can cause this condition: deterministic genes and risk genes. Less than one percent of the cases are a result of deterministic genes.
There are environmental and lifestyle risk factors at play, as well. Here’s what you need to know:
- Heart health is directly related to brain health as heart disease can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s as well (mainly because of damage to heart and blood vessels)
- Other conditions such as diabetes and hypertension can also potentially increase the risk or aid other confirmed causes
- Head injury and stroke have also been linked with memory loss
- Plaques and tangles (types of protein) can also cause Alzheimer’s as indicated by scientific research
- Poor lifestyle (bad diet, smoking, alcohol abuse, and drugs) can also play a part in increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Is Dementia the Same as Alzheimer’s?
People often confuse Alzheimer’s disease with dementia and even use the terms interchangeably. However, these are two different things, and knowing the difference can be critical for prevention and treatment.
Dementia is a group of symptoms (described above) and can have different types. Dementia is actually a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a very specific disease, which is usually the underlying cause of dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60 to 80% of dementia cases are a result of Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia describes the symptoms or problems people with Alzheimer’s face, such as memory loss, behavioral changes, loss of social skills, and difficulty in communication.
Can a Plant-based Diet Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?
Your cognitive health declines with aging, but Alzheimer’s and dementia are not a natural part of aging. Scientists and nutritionists agree that a strong and healthy diet can be the best tool for Alzheimer’s disease prevention. What we eat has a direct impact on our brain health.
A plant-based diet is inherently rich in whole-foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Studies have repeatedly shown that fruits and vegetables can prevent cognitive decline. A review study involving a total of 31,000 individuals showed that regular intake of fruits and vegetables could prevent dementia.
This article from Plant-based News cites several research studies from Europe to make the case for a plant-based diet and Alzheimer’s prevention. It discusses research published in the European Heart Journal that says high blood pressure in middle ages can increase the risk of this disease.
Furthermore, it also points out research that shows obesity may also increase the risk of cognitive decline. There’s no surprise there, as both these conditions are also responsible for heart disease, diabetes, and strokes.
That’s not all; high cholesterol is also a driver for Alzheimer’s disease risk, as explained by this video by NutritionFacts.org. Apparently, high cholesterol can increase the risk by as much as 50%.
A Plant-based Diet Fights the Causes of Alzheimer’s
While we are still learning more about the causes behind Alzheimer’s disease, there’s enough evidence to suggest that a plant-based diet can fight the existing causes. There’s ample scientific data that proves a plant-based diet can reduce blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and cause weight loss.
These are some of the main benefits of a plant-based diet, and apparently, their consequent benefit is better mental health. A study by Singaporean researchers, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, further sheds some light on this.
This research followed a cohort study involving 63,257 people in Singapore of Chinese descent. The age range of the participants was 45 to 74 years. They used five different dietary patterns, mostly plant-based.
The results of this study showed that those who ate a diet rich in plant-based foods have a lower risk of cognitive decline. The risk was lower by as much as 33%, which is quite promising for both young people and those in the middle ages.
Meat vs. Plant-based Diet for Cognitive Health
If we go by the elimination theory and look for foods that do cause cognitive decline, meat and animal products come on top. There’s still more research needed, but existing studies have blamed animal products for a decline in cognitive health.
A Journal of Nutritional Science study researched the effects of dietary patterns on learning and memory. They found that those who are eating a lot of processed meat and fried food showed a decline in learning abilities and memory.
Another study researched the effects of a diet rich in red meat with no whole grains. This study found that this type of diet increases inflammation and also resulted in a decline in reasoning abilities over time.
It’s clear that when it comes to preventing cognitive decline, plant-based foods have more leverage than meat products. It’s safe to say that a diet rich in plant-based foods has more preventive power than one with meat and other animal products, including dairy.
Foods That Help With Alzheimer’s Disease
Can a plant-based diet prevent Alzheimer’s disease? When we talk about food that is good for Alzheimer’s disease, we mean both as a preventive measure and as a treatment measure. For those who are in their middle ages, some plant-based foods can be especially helpful.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a plant-based diet rich in Vitamin E and B12 is quite beneficial. Here’s what you should eat more of:
- Leafy greens
- Whole grains
Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products. However, you can take supplements to make up the required daily intake of this crucial vitamin for neuron health.
We already know that regularly eating fruits and vegetables can also have a positive impact on your brain’s health. This is mainly because of all the antioxidants that prevent free radicals from damaging cells. Since Alzheimer’s symptoms are a result of damaging brain cells, it makes sense that whole fruits and vegetables can prevent that. Further evidence to support whether a plant-based diet can help prevent alzheimer’s disease.
Is There a Cure For Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is one of the few diseases, scientists and doctors are still struggling to find a cure for. We don’t have a cure for Alzheimer’s, nor is there a surefire way to stop or even slow its progress. However, most Alzheimer’s patients rely on medications and food that help with the symptoms.
Medications can temporarily improve memory in some patients. Then there are different treatments for patients to help them with their reasoning and social skills. Dietary supplements are also used as an alternative therapy.
A plant-based diet may not be able to cure the disease, but certain foods have positive effects on memory and other symptoms. For instance, regular intake of nuts like almonds and walnuts can help jog their memory.
Just because it’s incurable does not mean you cannot do anything against it. By eating a healthy diet and following other important treatments, patients can improve their quality of life and reduce their dependence on others. It’s also important to mention that emotional support can also help, even though the patient might not even be able to understand it.
Is Alzheimer’s Fatal?
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death for all adults in the US, according to the CDC. Eventually, Alzheimer’s patients can die from other diseases or infections. As the disease exacerbates, the brain can shut important body functions, such as chewing food and digesting food.
It’s a slowly progressing disease in most cases, so the journey can be physically and emotionally painful for the patients, as well as those around. The complications of the disease involve malnutrition, dehydration, infection, heart disease, and pneumonia.
Can a plant-based diet prevent Alzheimer’s disease? Yes, a diet rich with whole foods and whole grains is quite beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia prevention.
An early change in diet and lifestyle can have immensely positive effects, but don’t think it’s ever too late to switch. Even if you’re in your middle ages, you can switch to a plant-based diet to ensure your brain stays healthy, as does your heart and gut.
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