Stop dementia with healthy habits
At last, there is strong evidence that cognitive impairment—diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, long thought to be inevitable and irreversible, can be prevented, halted and even reversed. Not with powerhouse medications and their nasty side effects—but naturally.
For example, one recent study concluded that cocoa powder could be a powerful preventive agent for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.
As if preventing the cause of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases isn’t contribution enough, the humble cocoa bean, in various forms (powder, nibs, and cocoa butter) has further health benefits bordering on the heroic:
- Triggers release of pleasurable neurochemicals—and improves libido
- Contains anti-inflammatory and heart protective antioxidants that may improve blood circulation in the brain and reduce the risk of stroke
- Contains complex antioxidants that help reduce ‘bad cholesterol’ and prevent hardening of the arteries
- Thins blood and can prevent blood clots and prevent premature aging
- Contains high concentrations of energy-boosting, fatigue-fighting magnesium,
- Contains healthy fats similar to those in olive oil
Another study of non-medication interventions, involved volunteers 55 – 75, all with various cognitive impairments, tested their gastrointestinal health, levels of Vitamin D in the bloodstream, insulin level, and other variables.
Participants were then advised how to achieve and maintain optimal gastrointentinal health, how occasional fasting can normalize insulin levels, how to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D, and to take DHA (omega-3) supplements for brain health.
Nearly all the participants reported improved cognition after several months on this simple nutritional program. That is, their brain functions improved without a single prescription drug.
Though this study was small, its outcome is huge. It confirms that diet and lifestyle modifications can do what was once thought impossible: reverse the ravages of cognitive impairment.
We can now imagine a world where these numbers—and the heartbreak associated with each—no longer apply. According to The Alzheimer’s Association:
- More than 10% (1-in-9) of Americans over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease.
- The cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. is estimated to be $220 billion per year.
- One-third of Americans over age 85 have the illness.
- An American is stricken with Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds.
- 5.2 million Americans are living with the illness today.
- When the first baby boomers turn 85 (in 2031), the estimate is that more than 3 million people that age and older will have Alzheimer’s.
- More than 13 million Americans will have the disease by 2050.
But we don’t have to imagine. We can begin the journey today. Your mental health is now in your own hands.
Lifestyle Interventions: Good News
Meanwhile, on the lifestyle front, the critical role of diet in our overall health is becoming central to more and more conversations, research and interventions.
There’s mounting evidence that links harmful diet to inflammation in the gut, and links that inflammation to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS and even autism.
Also in the lifestyle-related good news:
A study cited at a recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference asked whether playing games—cards, checkers, puzzles, crosswords—reduces the risk of future dementia. 329 adults participated, average age 60. They had no Alzheimer’s diagnosis or symptoms, but did have either a family history of dementia or a genetic risk factor.
Participants who played more games scored higher on memory and executive functioning tests. Importantly, they also had larger brain volume in several locations, including the hippocampus, which assists memories, and often shrinks as dementia progresses.
By the way, the other “Keep mind and body active” strategies we all hear about—resistance training, power walks, treadmill, water aerobics, yoga, daily walks—all remain highly recommended—provided they don’t become routine. For example, I recommend not doing your therapeutic activity, qi gong, for example, at the same time on the same day every week. Do it somewhere different or in the usual place at a different time—you’re more likely to see new faces, new places.
Or try walking backwards for a change every now and then.
Change brings challenge, and challenge brings out the best in us—emotionally and physically.
Are You at Risk?
Recent research and results have changed the game considerably. We no longer need to concede that cognitive impairment is inevitable or incurable.
But we do need to remain our own best caretakers. That means, more than ever, knowing the symptoms of cognitive impairment so we can take action at the earliest signs.
For example, we all sometimes forget where we left our keys, or can’t find that…that…word. These are no longer dismissible as an inevitable, natural consequence of aging.
It’s likely that they’re the result of unnatural causes, like an unhealthy diet or environmental toxins. So if you experience these moments more often than sometimes, I ask you to see your doctor, ask some questions, and get yourself tested. A number of tests are available that can assess your vulnerability or current risk level of cognitive impairment. Your doctor will know which you should take.
Depending on the outcome of your tests, the worst case scenario is that there’s hope like never before that your condition can be improved or even eliminated. The best case scenario—perfect brain health—is increasingly something you can maintain indefinitely.