"Alzheimer's was the furthest thing from my mind," Julie Gregory told The New York Times after taking a DNA test for the disease at 55. "I never thought I was at risk. When I saw my results, I was terrified." As it turns out, Gregory was carrying two copies of gene variant ApoE4, which is strongly linked to Alzheimer's, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. In addition to memory loss, those with the disease become unable to recognize family members, have trouble forming thoughts, and lose overall functioning in their bodies. It's a deeply emotionally taxing change that affects not only the patient but also those around them.
Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States will develop the disease, and by 2050, it's estimated that nearly 14 million people will have it. There's no singular way to prevent it, either. According to Ríona Mulcahy, medical consultant to the Alzheimer's Disease & Nutrition trial at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, School of Health Science, Alzheimer's can be caused by a number of factors, age being the largest (your risk increases every five years after age 65), along with genetic predisposition, previous head injuries, and lifestyle factors like smoking, obesity, and high alcohol intake. If you have other underlying health issues like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, your risk increases further. Alzheimer's, experts say, is the culmination of different factors. "It has been said that while genetics 'loads the gun,'" says Mulcahy, "it's our lifestyle that pulls the trigger."
There's currently no cure for Alzheimer's and no preventative drug to protect the brain, but in addition to cutting out high-risk behaviors like alcohol and smoking, changing the way you eat could lead to a better fate, says Mulcahy. "There is a significantly increased incidence of Alzheimer's disease in patients with a raised body mass index. Vascular risk factors are heightened by diets high in sugars and processed carbohydrates as well as high calorie intake, central obesity, and high alcohol intake," she says.
In fact, Mulcahy tells us that Alzheimer's is 20% to 30% less prevalent in Okinawa and other areas of Japan where fish intake is high. This would make sense given omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to healthier cognitive function. Below, Mulcahy shares other foods that will largely benefit your brain.
Up next, take a look at how yoga benefits the brain.