By: JONI BISHOP
Series 6: How Your Choices Today Could Affect Your Chances of Developing Alzheimer’s
I bet that almost everyone reading this article either knows someone or knows of someone suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s is hitting us in epidemic proportions and is an emerging public health crisis. It is a cruel and harsh disease that not only affects the patients, but takes a toll on caregivers. It’s one of the most expensive aging diseases to manage, not to mention the enormous strain it places on families.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior that gets worse over time. In fact, microscopic changes in the brain begin long before the first signs of memory loss. Scientists believe that two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles play a huge role in damaging and killing nerve cells.
Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment that build up in the spaces between nerve cells. Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein that build up inside cells. Though most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, those with Alzheimer’s tend to develop far more. They also tend to develop in areas important for memory before spreading to other regions. Most experts believe they somehow play a critical role in blocking communication among nerve cells and disrupting processes that cells need to survive. There are seven stages of Alzheimer’s with Stage 7 being very severe physical and cognitive impairment, where the patient is dependent on others for total survival.
Staggering Statistics on Alzheimer’s
- Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States
- More than 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease
- African-Americans are more likely 14%-100% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia
- It’s projected that by 2030, 6.9 million African Americans will be affected with Alzheimer’s
- In 20 years, it’s projected that 1 in 4 Americans will suffer from Alzheimer’s
It’s important to know that this disease will affect you, or someone you love in the future. I chose to write this article because I’m personally dealing with this disease in my family and want to share my story with you.
About two years ago, my favorite guy in the world, my grandfather, succumbed to Alzheimer’s. I’ve watched him go from a smart, hard-working, vibrant, joke-telling, politic-talking, life of the party man to a completely different person. Although he’s been a diabetic for over 25 years, he used artificial sweeteners, had a high-carb diet, and rarely ate fish. At 87 years old, he has lost most cognitive function and is completely dependent on others for his survival. He may not be dead, but I’ve certainly lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s disease. I spent 5 months earlier this year serving as his caregiver while he was mobile and able to do things for himself with supervision, watching him deteriorate right before my eyes. Now, he is immobile, hallucinates, and doesn’t know my name or his surroundings. With my mom and me as the only family around to care for him, it’s the hardest and saddest thing I have ever had to face.
Alzheimer’s: Not a Normal Part of Aging
Alzheimer’s is a disease. It is not a normal part of aging. It is the only cause of death among the top 10 in America without a way to prevent it, cure it or even slow its progression. According to reports, deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 68% between 2000 and 2010, while deaths from other major diseases, including the number one cause of death (heart disease), decreased. In fact, 100 years ago, Alzheimer’s only afflicted a small number of the population.
Specific genes related to both the early-onset and late-onset forms of Alzheimer’s have been identified, but genetic risk factors alone do not fully explain its causes and prevalence. The million dollar question is why are we seeing such a spike in Alzheimer’s? The majority of experts believe it’s our environment and lifestyle. With that said, researchers are actively exploring environment and lifestyle to learn what role they might play in the development of this disease.
We know the risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol lack of exercise and eating processed foods. My theory is that food production and food supply are putting us in harm’s way and at risk for many chronic diseases on the rise, such as Alzheimer’s.
In the Western civilization, Alzheimer’s rates are at alarming epidemic proportions. Japan, Korea and Africa have very low rates of Alzheimer’s disease, with India having the lowest. In our culture, we rely on carbohydrates and sugars as our primary fuel source.
As I’ve stated in my previous articles, socio-economic status drives us to make poor food choices beyond our control. We have to eat, and sometimes the consumer is faced with no choice but to buy that packet of ramen or other processed or packaged foods ridden with GMO’s. However, bad food choices aren’t always limited to the poor, it also affects middle and upper middle class individuals who are too busy to cook fresh and natural foods, and chose to buy processed foods because of lack of planning and convenience.
10 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Through Lifestyle Choices
- If you have Type 2 diabetes, do everything in your power to reverse it or get it under control. Diabetes is linked to a 65% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Monitor you sugar levels and keep your fructose levels low. Your fasting sugar levels should be between 80-85. See my previous article on sugars to learn more about the dangers of fructose http://itsjonib.com/sugar-the-hidden-killer/
- Get Omega-3 in your daily diet (animal based preferred): Sources: Krill Oil, Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, grass-fed beef. For vegans go for high quality organic chia, flax or hemp seeds, walnuts, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
- Reduce your carbohydrate intake. If you can, go to a gluten-free, low-carb, high-fat diet (healthy fats). Cut out processed grains such as wheat and white bread, white rice, etc. Instead go for brown rice, quinoa, gluten-free breads. To find out more about the connection between grains and Alzheimer’s, check out Dr. Perlmutter’s New York Times Best Selling book, Grain Brain.
- Keep your zinc and magnesium intake up; natural sources of zinc include beans, pumpkin seeds, cocoa powder, cashews and oysters. Magnesium supplements are hard to absorb into the body. Foods rich in magnesium are bananas, spinach, kidney beans, quinoa, lentils, avocados, nuts and seeds, and dark chocolate.
- Eliminate genetically modified foods and foods grown using Glycophosphate, also known as Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready herbicide from your diet. Genetically modified crops are corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow summer squash. In my previous article I share tips to avoid genetically modified foods: http://itsjonib.com/ring-the-alarm-series-find-out-what-the-food-industry-is-hiding-from-you-about-gmo/. Round-Up Ready is used all over the world in commercial crops to prevent weeds. Glyphosate residues are found most commonly in commercially grown sugar, corn, soy and wheat. Studies have linked glycophosphate to infertility, birth defects and Alzheimer’s. If buying produce from a Farmer’s Market or co-op, have a conversation with your farmer about Round-Up before your purchase.
- Optimize your Vitamin D intake by getting enough sun exposure by getting outside for daily walks. If you live in the Northern states with cold winters, take a high quality vitamin D-3 gel capsule.
- Take a daily probiotic or eat fermented food on a regular basis. Refrigerated probiotics are best and most effective. A good refrigerated probiotic should cost about $18-20 per month.
- Avoid heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum based products such as antiperspirant and non-stick cookware. I cannot underscore how important it is for everyone try a heavy metal detox to remove the accumulation of metals in your body. As recently reported, Nicole Murphy was recently hospitalized due to mercury poisoning. If you need tips on a heavy metal detox, email me through my website.
- If you are retired, avoid isolation! Keep socially active and involved in your community. I find a correlation with retired individuals who keep to themselves and their routine and Alzheimer’s.
Rhodiola is an ancient herb used for brain and mental stimulation and is being studied as a potential preventive agent for Alzheimer’s disease. Rhodiola capsules can be found in any health food store.
In my opinion, Alzheimer’s disease is the end game of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease and so on. Taking a step back, it’s important to realize that many of these diseases are associated with lifestyle choices – such as what we eat and how much we exercise – not just physically, but cognitive exercising as well such as crossword puzzles and mind teasers.
However, I’ve known of college professors and engineers who used their brain well into their 70’s and succumbed to Alzheimer’s. So my theory leads to our food supply and isolation in elderly folks to blame as the main culprit in the spike of Alzheimer’s.
It’s important to realize that elderly also need plenty of social activity and stimulation. Becoming isolated after retirement is all too common, especially for those who don’t have family around. They spend their days going to the store, preparing their meals, watching TV and going to bed and waking up to do the same thing all over again. My colleagues and I were talking about this topic and noted that in other cultures where people live in a village, (such as Japan, Africa or India) there are extremely low rates of Alzheimer’s.
As with any disease, early detection is crucial. Watch for the signs in your loved ones. Thinking back to the last 5-10 years, my grandfather had the signs. He was repeating words and phrases. We all took this as the “normal” part of aging. Unfortunately, even if we had recognized it back then, there wasn’t much we could do for him, because once it starts, it can’t stop. We are now faced with the difficult choice of managing his disease at home or placing him in a nursing home.
If you know someone who has it or are a caregiver, remember you are not alone. Over 5 million people are affected; one of our favorite hip-hop couples T.I. and Tiny, both lost their fathers to Alzheimer’s and created a foundation for caregivers called For the Love of Our Fathers.
There is still no known accepted cure for this devastating disease, and no effective treatments. Alzheimer’s drugs are often of little to no benefit at all with terrible side effects, which underscores the importance of prevention throughout your lifetime.
Remember, knowledge is power and you are in control. School yourself!
This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet.
Joni B is a healthy foods personal chef and wellness and food sustainability expert. Joni B teaches adult and youth workshops on healthy eating and food sustainability. For more information on Joni B visit http://itsjonib.com/