RESEARCH AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Over the years, research has suggested that as we age, diet and supplements become critically important to maintaining a sharp brain. Most of us are familiar with the Mediterranean-type diet, which includes fish, olive oil, fruit, and vegetables and is low in saturated fat. Supplements such as multi-vitamins, omega-3 fish oil, vitamin C, and vitamin E can help to boost mental function and memory. Also important to maintaining a healthy brain is physical activity – in fact, a combination of aerobic and strength training for 150 minutes a week is ideal for maximum brain health benefits. And the use of computer-assisted mental exercise has also proven effective in maintaining memory.
Since 1993, ARPF has been the forerunner in the integrative or holistic approach to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease by advocating a lifestyle plan to maximize brain health: “The Four Pillars,” consisting of diet, exercise, stress management, and drugs. For the past decade, we have led the way in studying the effects of meditation on the brain and memory, and revealed that those effects impact not only your brain, but the cells throughout your body. In 2009, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discovery of the importance of telomeres, a region of repetitive DNA at the tip of a chromosome which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration. Her research reveals some of the causes for telomeres to shrink, which cause health issues and can shorten your life span, as well as lengthen.
Short telomeres have been associated with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and inflammation. In fact, most illnesses are associated with short telomeres. Stress leads to an increase in negative signaling chemicals, such as cortisol, that negatively impact telomeres, thus leading to a myriad of poor health conditions. Stress reduction can be achieved through the practice of yoga and meditation. By incorporating the daily 12 minute Kirtan Kriya memory meditation, our research shows that multiple health benefits have been obtained, including reversal of memory loss; improved mood and well-being; improved brain activity and blood flow through brain imaging and SPECT scans; decreased depression in stressed caregivers; decreased inflammation and improved immune function; increased energy in stressed caregivers and healthier genes; and, most impressively, a 44% increase in telomere length, which was called “groundbreaking” by Dr. Blackburn’s laboratory.
The ARPF is also associated with and co-sponsoring the largest study in history on the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, utilizing an integrative or multi-domain approach. The Finnish Geriatric Interventional Study for the Prevention of Cognitive Disability, or FINGER study, includes 1200 subjects and is 50% complete. The study examines the effects of diet, supplements, exercise, mental stimulation, and reduction of risk factors. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of this new ground-breaking research will be the measurement of telomeres on the participants before the study, mid-point through the study, and at the conclusion of the study.
Why is this research so important? In a major study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the costs associated with dementia place a significant financial burden not only on the families, but on society at large. According to CBS news, researchers have determined that the costs associated with a person living with dementia are approximately $50,000 per year. This adds up to as much as $215 billion in American health care dollars, $11 billion of which is paid for by Medicare. The price tag is only expected to rise.
The ARPF supports innovative research, which is essential to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s. By helping to fund important research studies, such as the FINGER study, this critically important area of medical research can continue, thus improving memory and paving the road for healthier and longer lives.