Change Your Diet to Avoid Alzheimer's
This morning’s headlines across the nation trumpeted the latest breakthrough in Alzheimer's research. The story, by New York Times reporter Gina Kolata, reports on two studies which analyzed the genetics of more than 50,000 people. The researchers found five new genes that make the disease more likely in the elderly, thus suggesting the reasons why Alzheimer’s starts and what fuels its progress. “So far, genes that increase Alzheimer’s risk in the elderly tend to be involved with cholesterol and with inflammation. They also may be used to transport molecules inside cells,” Kolata wrote. One study involved U.S. researchers who analyzed the genes of 54,000 people. These scientists found four new genes. The other study, which was primarily out of Europe and which had some contributions from the United States, confirmed the four genes that the American researchers discovered and added an additional gene. The two groups are now going to pool their data in order to look for genes in the combined sample.
So what can you take from this? On his website drweil.com, Dr. Andrew Weil (who is a clinical professor of medicine and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona) described inflammation as “the cornerstone of the body's healing response, bringing more nourishment and more immune activity to a site of injury or infection. But when inflammation persists or serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes illness.”
As a person who has a family history of Alzheimer’s in old age, I’m focused on the steps I can take. And as it turns out, there are many lifestyle choices we can make. “Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to toxins (like secondhand tobacco smoke) can all contribute to such chronic inflammation, but dietary choices play a big role as well,” the website notes. “Learning how specific foods influence the inflammatory process is the best strategy for containing it and reducing long-term disease risks.”
That’s where an anti-inflammatory diet comes in. “The Anti-Inflammatory Diet is not a diet in the popular sense - it is not intended as a weight-loss program (although people can and do lose weight on it), nor is it an eating plan to stay on for a limited period of time,” drweil.com explained. “Rather, it is way of selecting and preparing foods based on scientific knowledge of how they can help your body maintain optimum health. Along with influencing inflammation, this diet will provide steady energy and ample vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids dietary fiber, and protective phytonutrients.”
Weil’s diet is suggested through a food pyramid. The base is lots of fresh fruits (3-4 servings) and vegetables (4-5 servings) daily. He also recommends 3-5 daily servings of whole and cracked grains, 2-3 weekly servings of pasta cooked al dente, and 1-2 daily servings of beans and legumes. In this diet, you should eat 5-7 servings of healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocados, seeds, and expeller-pressed canola oil). Whole soy foods also make the list, with suggested servings at 1-2 daily. Weil also recommends unlimited amounts of cooked Asian mushrooms as well as healthy herbs and spices (garlic, ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon), but recommends only 1-2 weekly servings of other sources of protein, such as high quality natural cheeses and yogurt, omega-3 enriched eggs, skinless poultry and lean meats. You also should consider having 2-4 daily cups of tea (white, green, oolong), and make sure you take daily vitamin supplements. Weil recommends no more than two glasses of red wine each day and eating healthy sweets (such as dark chocolate) sparingly.