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Progress Towards the Treatment and Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer's Research Center

Alzheimer’s Prevention

Keep physically active. There is no substitute for a healthy diet and regular exercise. Leisure-time physical activity at midlife has been shown to be associated with a decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life, especially among genetically susceptible individuals. Specifically, there exists a link between good cardiorespiratory fitness and preservation of the hippocampus, an area of the brain important in memory and spatial navigation. It is also one of the first brain regions to suffer Alzheimer’s related damage. Furthermore, a recent study using mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s disease revealed that mice allowed to exercise, had 50-80% less plaque in their brains than did sedentary mice.

Exercise your brain and keep socially active. Increased levels of social engagement and cognitive stimulation have been shown to be beneficial to overall cognitive health. Participation in leisure activities reduces the risk for dementia and mild cognitive impairment mainly through reducing stress, which helps maintain connections among brain cells. Mentally stimulating activities strengthen these connections as well as the brain cells themselves and may even contribute to the creation of new nerve cells.

Eat Healthy Foods. High dietary intake of unsaturated, unhydrogenated fats may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease, whereas intake of saturated or trans-unsaturated (hydrogenated) fats may increase the risk. It is important to eat beans and green vegetables like spinach and kale, which are good sources of folic acid. Individuals with low folic acid and vitamin B12 are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. Vitamin B12 is obtained mainly from fortified cereals, meat and liver. Supplements are also available, including multi-vitamins, which contain both folic acid and vitamin B12.

Vitamins E and C. Epidemiologic studies have suggested that a high dietary intake of foods rich in vitamin E and vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Research from our center and others indicates that the damage to the brain that occurs in Alzheimer’s, stroke and Parkinson’s is due in part to biochemical compounds called free radicals. Vitamins E and C trap these harmful compounds. Therefore, we continue to study the potential of antioxidants for the treatment and prevention of these brain disorders. Our latest discovery in this area indicates that free radicals generated by compounds isolated from Alzheimer’s brain tissue can even damage parts of brain cells called acetylcholine receptors, which are needed for receiving memory signals. At least one clinical trial has suggested that Alzheimer’s patients benefit from vitamin E intake. In addition, brain cell culture studies show that vitamin E can protect against damage caused by amyloid proteins that accumulate abnormally in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Both alpha and gamma tocopherol make up vitamin E. It is important to know that current vitamin E supplements contain only alpha tocopherol. Therefore, a good diet is essential to obtain gamma tocopherol. Vitamin E is found in corn and soybean oils, margarine, sunflower seeds and other foods. (Individuals with bleeding disorders and ulcers should talk to their doctors before taking vitamin E, which may prolong clotting time.) Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is common in the elderly because of the skin’s reduced capacity to synthesize it with age and because of decreased sun exposure, which is necessary for the synthesis of the vitamin. It has been reported that higher blood levels of Vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a relative with early signs of dementia, you can request that their doctor determine if your relative is deficient in Vitamin D with a simple blood test. This is important, as the elderly require higher levels of Vitamin D than younger adults. Supplements containing about 800 iu of Vitamin D for daily use are available, but you should check with your doctor before taking or giving them to your relative.

One glass of wine or beer per day. Recent studies suggest that adults who have one glass of wine (or beer, etc) per day may reduce their risk of Alzheimer's disease. Red wine is known to contain resveratrol and other protective substances, which modulate several mechanisms of Alzheimer’s pathology, including decreasing the levels of amyloid plaques. Pregnant women, people with a history of alcohol abuse and driving under the influence, and those with liver problems should not drink alcohol.

High Blood Pressure Medication. Several new studies show that treating hypertension can reduce one’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease as well as other forms of cognitive impairment. While hypertension is not believed to be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease, it is a risk factor. It is thought to be partially responsible for the subcortical white matter lesions and a blood-brain barrier dysfunction found commonly in Alzheimer’s disease patients. Furthermore, several studies have begun to investigate which anti-hypertensive medications have the greatest effect on reducing cognitive impairment. One such study showed that centrally acting ACE inhibitors have the largest impact on improving cognition in patients with cognitive impairment.