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Protect yourself from Alzheimer's disease

Thursday, February 2, 2012
Protect yourself from Alzheimer's

Question: My mother and her sister both have Alzheimer's — is there anything I can do to protect myself from getting it, too?

Answer: Genetic factors may play a part in some types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Although the condition cannot usually be cured, there are conventional drug treatments like donepezil and sedatives that help to control symptoms and there are also many self-help treatments worth considering for back-up and prevention.

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Go easy on aluminium: The jury remains out on whether aluminium in the diet and environment causes Alzheimer's disease — some studies have shown that elevated levels of aluminium in drinking water is associated with an increased risk, while other research shows no link. Until more conclusive findings are known, it wouldn't hurt to minimise your exposure to aluminium — drink from glass bottles, not cans, swap aluminium cookware for stainless steel or ceramic, use an aluminium-free toothpaste, and consider installing a water filter.

Up the ante: Free radicals are involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease, because they damage nerve cell membranes in the brain. Elevated levels of the antioxidant nutrients vitamins C and E and beta-carotene are all associated with a reduced risk of all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, so taking an antioxidant supplement may provide some protection.

Go fish: As if there weren't already enough reasons to be popping a couple of fish oil capsules every day, studies also show that a diet rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that are found in cold-water oily fish (e.g. salmon, trout, tuna, and mackerel) has a protective effect against Alzheimer's disease. It may also be of benefit to people who already have the disease, with one study showing that Alzheimer's patients who took 1,400mg of DHA daily experienced an improvement in cognition, orientation, and problem-solving.

Lower homocysteine: High blood levels of this inflammatory chemical is a risk factor for developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Taking a daily B-complex supplement may help to preserve brain function.

Investigate ALC: The amino acid acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) increases the production of the important brain neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which in turn may improve memory and possibly prevent or at least slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Pick a herb: Mother Nature has several treatments in her medicine chest which may help prevent and treat dementia. For example, ginkgo biloba enhances cerebral blood flow and inhibits brain inflammation, while sage may strengthen mental function and memory by stimulating acetylcholine levels in the body. Seek advice from a qualified herbalist — find one near you at www.nhaa.org.au.

Related: Lowering cholesterol without drugs

Move it or lose it: Physical activity may help to prevent dementia, with one study showing that men and women over age 65 who exercised regularly had around one-third the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Intellectual stimulation is also thought to help protect against dementia.

Your say: Are you worried about developing Alzheimer's as you get older?

Video: Tips to prevent Alzheimer's disease

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