Alzheimer’s disease is a common age-related condition, and chances are you know someone who has this neurological disorder that impacts their ability to think and remember things. Featuring the accumulation of the toxic beta-amyloid plaque, which kills off the neurons it surrounds, Alzheimer’s is one of the most feared diseases.
Fortunately, your future isn’t solely up to chance or a far-off medical breakthrough. There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, even if you have a higher genetic risk of Alzheimer’s.
For example, regular physical activity, reducing dietary glycation products, and consuming plenty of anti-inflammatory fatty acids are all ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Removing Amyloid Plaques isn’t Enough
If you have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, you’re probably aware of antibody drugs for Alzheimer’s patients.
In January of 2023, the second antibody drug aimed at treating Alzheimer’s disease was approved. Named Leqembi (or Lecanemab), it attaches to a particularly toxic form of the beta-amyloid plaque so that it doesn’t continue to clump together. As Leqembi is an antibody, it “flags” the beta-amyloid plaque, signaling to the immune system that this is an invader and must be removed.
Although Leqembi is much safer than Aduhelm, the first anti-amyloid antibody, it’s not perfect. One in five patients experience side effects such as bleeding or swelling of the brain, and it only slows cognitive decline by 27%. People with the ApoE4 gene, which significantly increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, are most likely to suffer bleeding or swelling. A holistic, preventive approach is best overall, whether or not you ever need antibody therapy.
Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease with Physical Activity
Regular exercise is essential to our overall health, but sometimes staying motivated is difficult. However, Alzheimer’s prevention and better cognitive function now are two more reasons to make time for exercise whenever you can. As a 2020 review explains, researchers have known as far back as the 70s that middle-aged athletes have better memory and cognition than sedentary people of the same age.
It’s never too late, either. Studies on older adults discussed in the same review demonstrate that just 6-12 months of regular exercise can increase the size of at least some brain regions. These include the hippocampus, your main memory center; and areas responsible for decision-making and emotion. In one trial involving 100 people with mild cognitive impairment, the precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, six months of strength training improved memory, executive function, and attention span.
How Exercise Can Help Improve Brain Health
Regular training supports brain health in several ways. By boosting circulation, your brain receives more nutrients and oxygen, and can detoxify more efficiently. This may be why one study covered in the review showed that six months of cardio training reduced amyloid-beta levels in the blood by 24%. Additionally, inflammation goes down and the production of your body’s own antioxidants goes up to (over)compensate for the oxidative stress generated during energy production. There is even an increase in growth factors that promotes the development of new neurons and the maintenance of the brain cells you already have.
But how much exercise do we need? Generally, the trials showing increases in brain matter instructed their participants to perform 30-60 minutes of exercise a day, three days weekly. They should involve both cardio and strength training, and be moderate in intensity. Moderate intensity means you are still able to talk, but cannot try to sing.
The Low Glycation Diet: A Little-Known, but Potentially Powerful, Solution for Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease
Advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) may be a lesser-known driver of age-related diseases. The product of chemical reactions between sugar and proteins, AGEs contribute to a cycle of tissue damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Inside the brain, the level of glycation has been related to the degree of Alzheimer’s disease risk and severity.
The reactions that create AGEs are irreversible, so they are only removable through normal cell and tissue turnover. We can see this with the blood test parameter HbA1c, which measures the severity of glycation in your red blood cells. As red blood cells only live for 120 days, it’s relatively easy to reduce HbA1c. On the other hand, skin collagen has a half-life of 10 years, and you can expect each neuron in your brain to last a lifetime. This is why prevention is far better than any treatment.
So how do we reduce the formation of new AGEs?
Healthy Blood Glucose Metabolism
Much of the AGEs in our bodies are made from unabsorbed blood sugar. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is more common in people with diabetes, even after blood sugar levels are back under control. Glycation, which persists for longer than blood sugar, is turning out to be the missing piece of the puzzle. To keep blood sugar within a healthy range, it’s important to consume predominately low-glycemic load (GL) foods and exercise regularly. If you are concerned about your risk of developing type II diabetes, monitoring your blood glucose levels can help you find the right foods to eat and stay motivated to exercise.
The Low-Glycation Diet
It’s time to bring the low-glycation diet into the mainstream. In 2013, a little-known book, Younger Skin in 28 Days, was published to educate readers on how to reduce your dietary AGE exposure. So little-known, that when I tried to purchase a physical copy several years ago, it never arrived and I had to buy the Kindle version. Although it does introduce a few complex ideas, I was surprised that it received so little attention .
So how do we reduce our dietary exposure to AGEs? It’s not so much about limiting certain food groups, it’s more about how we cook foods. In general, cooking with dry heat increases their AGE content by 10-100 times. Meat and eggs are higher in AGEs than plant foods and dairy. Salads, steamed dishes, and slow-cooked meals are best.
In fact, there is a dramatic difference in AGEs when we compare cooking methods and different food groups. For example:
- Stewed beef contains 2,650kU per 100g. A pan-fried beef steak will have just over 10,000kU.
- Steaming Atlantic salmon in foil gives you an AGE content of 1,000kU/100g, but broiling it increases this to over 3,300kU.
- Bananas give you a staggering(!) 9kU, but dried figs contain just over 2,600kU
- Grilled vegetables generally do not surpass 250kU
- Raw, salted pistachios generally contain 380kU of AGEs per 100g, while roasted peanuts contain over 6,400kU when prepared without their shells
- Pre-packaged hot cocoa gives you around 200-260kU per 100g, but milk and yoghurt is generally extremely low in AGEs.
- All soups tested in the same paper never surpassed 4kU per 100g, but a Big Mac clocked in at 7,800kU.
Here, we can see that steaming is better than frying, fresh fruit beats dried fruit, and going out to a Vietnamese restaurant for pho over a burger is a far healthier choice. If you’re cooking at home:
- Use moist heat, such as steaming or a slow cooker
- Cook at lower temperatures, never leave food (especially meat) to blacken
- Use acidic ingredients, such as lemon juice or vinegar, in marinades or sauces
Anti-Inflammatory Fatty Acids
Your brain is mostly fatty tissue, and fatty acid balance is essential in taming the inflammation that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, the typical American diet has an excessive ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, at over 10:1. Omega-6 fats are found in vegetable oils and grain-fed meat. Rich sources of omega-3 fats include oily fish, walnuts, and hemp seeds. Multiple studies show that an omega-6:3 ratio between 2.5:1 and 5:1 is best for relieving symptoms of asthma and arthritis, and can cut cardiovascular mortality by up to 70%.
Consuming a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids has also been linked to a 40-50% reduction in dementia risk. But how does it work? One omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, DHA, can boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), supporting the growth and development of neurons. It also reduces production of amyloid-beta, and takes up space in the cell membranes so inflammatory fats have less room to move in.
Why Getting a DNA Test to Understand Your Risk of Alzheimer’s is Important
With a number of ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease in the future, and boost your brainpower now, learning about your risk factors now is an empowering first step to take. A CircleDNA Premium DNA test can show you whether or not you have the APOE4 gene, an elevated risk of blood sugar dysregulation, and if you have higher requirements for certain nutrients. This way, you can prioritize the most essential dietary and lifestyle changes and cut out much of the guesswork.
Even if your DNA test states that you have higher genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease or another disease, this doesn’t mean you will get the disease. All it means is that you should consider taking extra preventative measures to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, such as the tips in this article for prevention.
- Leqembi, Formerly Lecanemab, Gets FDA Approval to Treat Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s News Today, https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/news/leqembi-formerly-lecanemab-gets-fda-approval-treat-alzheimers/
- A randomized, double-blind, phase 2b proof-of-concept clinical trial in early Alzheimer’s disease with lecanemab, an anti-Aβ protofibril antibody, Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, https://alzres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13195-021-00813-8
- Physical exercise in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, Journal of Sport and Health Science, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7498620/
- Common neurodegenerative pathways in obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta: Molecular Basis of Disease, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27156888/
- Collagen Glycation Detected by Its Intrinsic Fluorescence, The Journal of Physical Chemistry, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34555903/
- Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/
- The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12442909/
- Dietary Fatty Acids and the Aging Brain, Nutrition Reviews, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019000/