How surprised would you be if I told you that 60% or more of Alzheimer’s disease cases can be prevented through lifestyle choices? How relieved would you feel, knowing that you may be able to avoid this devastating disease, even if family members have succumbed to it?
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, causing 50-70% of all dementia cases. The global incidence of dementia more than doubled during the period from 1990 to 2016. With 50 million people suffering from dementia and the expectation that this number will continue to rise, the World Health Organization (WHO) is in the process of developing recommendations on risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia. The WHO states here:
“Crucially, while age is the strongest known risk factor for cognitive decline, dementia is not a natural or inevitable consequence of ageing. During the recent two decades, several studies have shown a relationship between the development of cognitive impairment and dementia with with educational attainment, and lifestyle-related risk factors, such as physical inactivity, tobacco use, unhealthy diets and harmful use of alcohol. Further, certain medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, including hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, obesity and depression.”
On the healthy brain front, I recently became aware of Team Sherzai. They are a California-based wife and husband duo, both neurologists, dedicated to conducting research and raising awareness about how our lifestyle choices can help us to be “cognitively vibrant” and prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
I listened to their Brain Health and Beyond Podcast titled, Averting the Tsunami of Alzheimer’s. They emphasized not only the enormity of the Alzheimer’s crisis, but also the great potential for preventing it, and how the medical community is waking up to this possibility. They gave the example that one plenary talk at the 2019 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference focussed on recent research showing a possible link between lifestyle choices and Alzheimer’s. In one such study (overseen by Rush University) involving 2700 participants and 14 years of follow-up, those who adopted four or five low-risk lifestyle factors were found to have about a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s dementia when compared with participants who did not follow any or only one of the low-risk factors.
The low-risk lifestyle factors echoed those noted by the WHO:
- Healthy diet
- At least 150 minutes/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity
- Not smoking
- Light to moderate alcohol intake
- Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities
Even more exciting is that Dean and Ayesha Sherzai are confident that 90% of Alzheimer’s can be prevented through lifestyle choices! This is because we can amp up those low-risk lifestyle factors to get even better results. For example, the Sherzais advocate for an unprocessed plant-based diet, which goes above and beyond the Rush study’s definition of a healthy diet. Additionally, from the Sherzai’s perspective, ensuring good stress management and restorative sleep are additional lifestyle choices that can further reduce our risk for Alzheimer’s. For more information, check out their online resources and book here.
One reason to focus our attention on the prevention of Alzheimer’s is that there is currently no effective disease-modifying cure or treatment for it. The development of a pharmaceutical drug is incredibly costly, and “efforts so far have had a dismal track record, with more than 100 failures.” See here.
I have never been more motivated to sustain and further improve my lifestyle choices. Possibly preventing Alzheimer’s is only one of the many known benefits of adopting healthier habits. There’s much to be gained and nothing to lose!