Not much is known about the causes of Alzheimer's, a serious cognitive disorder that impacts people's memories, communication and awareness. As such, it's been hard for scientists to discover a cure or fail-safe preventive measure for the condition. Research is bringing us closer to unlocking some of those answers, however. Diet, heart health and weight have all been discovered as possible links to the development of Alzheimer's. Getting proper nutrition and maintaining gut health may play important roles in keeping this disease at bay.
How lifestyle factors impact Alzheimer's
For years, researchers have examined the role of diet in preventing Alzheimer's. The effects have shown to be twofold – proper nutrition may not only keep the brain healthier, so that it can better protect itself against disease, but eating well can also stop other health conditions linked to the cognitive disorder.
"Alzheimer's is connected to brain cell death."
Alzheimer's is connected to brain cell death, though the extent of this relationship still remains a mystery, according to the Mayo Clinic. In some cases, plaques build up in and around the brain, disrupting neural communication and suffocating key processing centers for cognitive function. It's thought that eating a diet low in fats, cholesterol and sodium may help keep the brain strong enough to prevent some of these cell die-offs and limit the growth of plaques.
Likewise, heart-heart diets rich in whole grains, fruits, lean proteins and leafy vegetables may play a role in stopping Alzheimer's. Another linked cause to brain cell death is low blood flow. When the brain doesn't get enough oxygen, it can choke out the cells and cause damage that contributes to dementia symptoms. Therefore, by getting the necessary vitamins and minerals for improving circulation, it may be possible to preserve brain health.
Cardiovascular health can be threatened by a number of causes, including obesity. When other chronic health conditions are present, it can influence the rate at which a person then develops Alzheimer's.The Lancet published research that found that up to a third of dementia cases may be delayed or prevented all together by addressing several lifestyle factors including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease.
Probiotics, gut health linked to reduced risks
Part of a nutritious diet includes supporting gut health. According to Frontiers, there is a direct link between gut flora and the nervous system, giving a direct line of communication from digestive systems to the brain, immune system and hormones. The research found that probiotics have a positive impact on gut health, and possibly on the symptoms of Alzheimer's. In their clinical study, Alzheimer's patients who took a probiotic every day for 12 weeks showed marked improvement on the Mini-Mental State Examination scale used to test cognitive function.
"In a previous study, we showed that probiotic treatment improves the impaired spatial learning and memory in diabetic rats, but this is the first time that probiotic supplementation has been shown to benefit cognition in cognitively impaired humans," said Dr. Mahmoud Salami, professor at Kashan University and the senior author of the study.
Certain foods, like some yogurts, can provide probiotics. To fit in with the low-cholesterol diet recommendations for heart health, people can also try non-dairy probiotics supplements. By combining a heart-healthy diet with probiotics, people may be able to increase their cognitive, and overall, health. Before starting a new health regime it's important for people to discuss their options with their doctors to ensure they're following the right plans for their health needs.