Chances are, you know someone with dementia. It is devastating to watch a loved one gradually lose their mental capacity as memory fails, independence is lost, and personality changes. Currently more than half a million Canadians suffer from Alzheimer’s-type dementia, and as the population ages this number is expected to over the next thirty years. A cure for dementia has been elusive but there are many exciting initiatives in this area, and increased funding will greatly assist the research efforts.1 At present, your best strategy is prevention.
A recent study out of France compared two tools for assessing the risk of developing dementia: an Aging and Dementia Risk Score, and the Framingham cardiovascular/stroke risk score.2 It turns out that the Framingham is actually a better predictor of cognitive decline over a 10-year period. It is a very simple tool that doctors have been using for years, and includes measures of cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking, together with age and sex in predicting risk. If you are concerned about cognitive decline, ask your doctor to calculate your Framingham risk score.
Whether or not you are deemed “high-risk”, there is no time like the present to take some preventative measures! My number one piece of advice is physical exercise. This has been shown to be even more important than “mental” exercise in preventing cognitive decline. If you don’t get regular exercise presently, start by going for daily walks or bike rides. Consider joining a gym, such as the YMCA, and add some strength or resistance training to your weekly schedule. In addition, many nutrients have been studied for their ability to support brain health. I discussed the importance of Omega 3’s in one of my columns last year:
Here are a few more to consider:
B vitamins— In one study, 274 people (aged 65-79) who had normal cognition were assessed for serum levels of folate (vitamin B9) and holotranscobalamin (the biologically active fraction of vitamin B12). After seven years, the scientists reevaluated these people for various levels of cognitive performance. They found that higher levels of these two B vitamins were associated with enhanced performance in key cognitive tests.
Choline– Choline is the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Loss of nerve cells that utilize acetylcholine is associated with reduced memory and cognition. In a study of 1,391 adults between 36 and 83 years of age, researchers found that higher choline intake was linked to enhanced performance in verbal and visual memory.
Chromium picolinate— Research suggests that this trace mineral is important for maintaining cognitive function in older adults. In one study, participants receiving chromium showed improvement in learning, recall and recognition memory tasks. In addition, functional magnetic resonance imaging indicated that the chromium users had increased activation in specific areas of the brain, as compared to placebo.
Curcumin— The principle component in the spice turmeric, curcumin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and it prevents the degredation of a protein called “tau”. When tau proteins are defective or don’t do their job properly, this can increase your risk for dementia.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)— In one study, rats were treated with aluminum, which caused poor retention of memory, oxidative damage in the brain and increased the activity of an enzyme called “acetylcholinesterase” which breaks down the neurotransmitter “acetylcholine”. This is the chemical in the brain that plays a key role in memory and learning. However, pretreating the rats with NAC resulted in significantly improved memory retention, decreased oxidative damage and reduced acetylcholinesterase activity. (Not that you’re a rat or anything, but we are all exposed to aluminum.)
Phosphatidylserine (PS)— This nutrient is necessary for building cell membranes, especially in nerve cells, as well as forming acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter we mentioned above. It is one of the most researched nutrients of all time, backed by 64 clinical studies and more than 2,800 research papers. Specifically, PS plays a key role in several brain functions, including memory, learning, recall, concentration and vocabulary, and has been clinically shown to roll back cognitive decline by 12 years and improve memory by 44 percent!
Together with regular physical exercise, supplementing some of these nutrients can make a significant difference in reducing your risk of dementia. (And don’t forget about Omega 3’s!)
Your partner in Living Longer Better,
Dr. Grant Pagdin, MD
- Kaffashian S, et al. Neurology. 2013 Apr 2;80(14):1300-6.
- Hooshmand B, et al. J Intern Med. 2012 Feb;271(2):204-12.
- Poly C, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Dec;94(6):1584-91.
- Krikorian R, et al. Nutr Neurosci. 2010 Jun;13(3):116-22.
- Ahmad B, et al. J Biol Chem. 2012;12:9193-9.
- Prakash A and Kumar A. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2009 Aug;105(2):98-104.
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