Many evidence-based natural strategies can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Read on to learn how to change your lifestyle and supplements regimen to minimize your risk of Alzheimer’s and support your brain health.

Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

Alzheimer’s disease sounds like the worst possible disease you could be at risk of. The disease itself is complex, and scientists are still trying to understand its causes and course. On top of that, it gradually progresses to completely destroy brain function, causing severe memory loss [1].

The Modern Lifestyle

Though Alzheimer’s is commonly diagnosed in people over 65 years old, many people nowadays start to experience signs of cognitive decline at a much younger age.

For this reason, Alzheimer’s is now being reframed as a disease of the modern, sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle–much like obesity and type 2 diabetes [2].

Just as you need to watch your intake of salt and saturated fats to reduce your heart disease risk, so you need to make sure you are giving your brain the nutrients it needs to work at its best.

This way, you’re shifting your “brain environment” to one that offsets Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Plus, type 2 diabetes and heart disease are strongly linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. You can prevent them by eating a healthy diet and exercising. By lowering your risk of one chronic disease, you also lower your risk of many others–killing two birds with one stone [3, 4, 5, 6].

The Right Time for Prevention

The right time for Alzheimer’s disease prevention is as soon as possible–it’s never too early. By reading this post, you’ll have the basic guidance you need. That means you should start right now.

Small brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease occur 20 years before people experience the first symptoms. It’s probably at this stage – or before – that your lifestyle choices can have the biggest impact [1].

1) Education & Studying

People with higher education levels (and higher income) have a lower risk of developing AD. According to one theory, your years of studying build your cognitive reserves [7, 8, 9].

Just as the term suggests, your cognitive reserves reflect your mental capacities. You need to “put in” to your cognitive reserves throughout your life.

As you study new topics and acquire complex knowledge, sets of connections are strengthened between neurons in your brain. Strong and diverse connections make you more resilient to cognitive decline [7, 8, 9].

When connections are lost during the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the brain can compensate with alternate routes of communication built during the years of study [7, 8, 9].

This doesn’t mean that you should enroll in a college program or start a Ph.D. Nor does it mean your cognitive reserves are low if you didn’t get an advanced degree in school.

Your cognitive reserves depend on how much time you spent studying in your life. This usually correlates with years spent in school, but it doesn’t have to.

If you prefer to study by yourself – and are persistent about it – you can build your cognitive reserves as much as someone completing a university-level degree.

The more time you spend studying in your life, the higher your cognitive reserves will be. This makes your brain more resilient to Alzhiemer’s disease.

2) Social and Mental Activity

Keeping your brain as active as possible through mentally stimulating activities, especially later in life, can help keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay.

Mental activity helps prevent or delay the onset of dementia and other cognitive disorders that come with aging. Stimulating your brain increases connections between brain cells, the size of the brain, and the health of white matter (which ties the brain cells together) [10, 11].

Reading, playing games, doing puzzles or even dancing are great for helping elderly people stay sharp. Think of the brain as a muscle and apply the “use it or lose it” principle to maintain a healthy brain [12, 13].

Mentally-stimulating activities and socializing keep your brain active and help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.

3) Exercise

Studies show that exercise is one of the most important and effective ways to prevent or improve dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise improves brain blood flow, increases the size of the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center), and stimulates the birth of new brain cells [14, 15, 16].

A review study involving more than 160k people found that physical exercise cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in half. Aerobic exercise or cardio is great for reducing the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia that comes with aging, but even strength training works well [2, 17, 18].

Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and lowers Alzheimer’s disease risk.

4) Sleep

When we are awake, waste products such as beta-amyloid proteins naturally accumulate in the brain. During sleep, the brain clears these waste products, but when sleep is diminished or disturbed, the waste products can accumulate and cause damage to neurons. In the long run, this can lead to cognitive impairment and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease [19].

A review of observational studies including nearly 250k people revealed that those with sleep disturbances had an increased risk of developing dementia [20].

Studies in both humans and animals have shown that sleep deprivation or disturbance is linked with increased beta-amyloid and tau protein in the brain. What’s worse, as more of these waste products build up, they disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and fragment sleep. This creates a vicious cycle in which poor sleep worsens Alzheimer’s, and Alzheimer’s worsens sleep [21, 22, 23].

If you have sleep problems, read through this list of sleep-hacking tips – it’s based on research and years of experimentation.

High-quality sleep is crucial for your brain health. Make sure to regularly get enough sleep to minimize your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

5) The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet consists of foods that cultures surrounding the Mediterranean sea traditionally eat. It abounds in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and seafood.

Following the Mediterranean diet can significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to review studies. It also reduces the risk of dying from the disease [24, 25, 26, 27].

In a study of 278 older people, brain scans revealed that those who followed the Mediterranean diet had lower levels of beta-amyloid protein in their brains [28].

The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, which may help prevent Alzheimer’s. In a mouse study, olive oil improved memory and stimulated the creation of new cells in the hippocampus. In another mouse study, olive oil increased enzymes that clear beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain [29, 30].

The Mediterranean diet is also rich in fruits and vegetables; good sources of potassium. Higher intakes of potassium may help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Increased potassium intake reduced beta-amyloid in brain tissues, improved cognitive performance, and decreased markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in a study on mice [31].

The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive impairment, and dementia.

6) Stop Smoking

There’s been a lot of controversy about whether cigarette smoking increases or decreases Alzheimer’s risk. According to the latest research, smoking greatly increases the risk. It triggers oxidative stress in the brain and damages brain cells [32].

If you are smoking, you can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in half by stopping in time. According to an observational study of more than 20k people, smoking increases the risk of Alzheimer’s by more than 100%. Smoking during midlife (40-55 years old) is particularly damaging to the brain [33].

Stop smoking to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and improve your brain health.

7) Reduce Stress

Chronic stress contributes to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Mice studies show that corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), released from the pituitary gland as part of the stress response, stimulates the production of beta-amyloid proteins [34, 35].

The stress hormone cortisol is equally harmful. In mice studies, cortisol stimulates the accumulation of both beta-amyloid and tau proteins [36, 35].

Find out how to inhibit your stress response and reduce cortisol in this post.

8) Vitamin D

Getting more sun or taking a vitamin D supplement are easy ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease [37, 38].

A review study revealed that Alzheimer’s disease patients have lower levels of vitamin D, compared to healthy people. Another review including nearly 10k people found that blood levels of vitamin D less than 50 nmol/L were associated with a higher risk of AD and dementia [37, 38].

Moreover, cell studies have shown that vitamin D reduces inflammation and stimulates the clearance of beta-amyloid deposits in the brain [39, 40].

Get more sun or take vitamin D supplements to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

10) Protect Your Head

A systematic review of studies involving more than 2 million people revealed that head injury increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 50% and the risk of any type of dementia by more than 60% [41].

Your choice of profession may also influence your risk of head injury and Alzheimer’s disease. People who experience recurrent head injuries due to their profession, such as football players, are four times more likely to develop a neurodegenerative disorder [42].

11) Polyphenols

Mild cognitive impairment is considered a precursor state to full-blown dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A trial of 85 people found that those with mild cognitive impairment had lower levels of antioxidants, similar to what is seen in Alzheimer’s. Boosting the body’s antioxidant levels early on may help prevent Alzheimer’s [43].

Sirtuin 1 is an enzyme that protects against age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s. It is controlled by the SIRT1 gene. Studies have focused on increasing the activity of the SIRT1, as it reduces the conversion of amyloid precursor protein to beta-amyloid proteins in mouse models of Alzheimer’s [44, 45].

The protein NF-κB is a key mediator of aging and is activated by toxic, oxidative, and inflammatory stressors. In mice studies, inhibition of NF-κB leads to later onset of age-related symptoms and disorders [46].

The following polyphenols can reduce age-related cell damage caused by reactive oxygen species through increasing the activity of SIRT1 [47, 48]:

They may also reduce the formation of beta-amyloid deposits, and improve communication between cells [47, 48].

Getting plenty of polyphenols such as resveratrol, EGCG, and turmeric may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or delay its onset.

12) Manganese

A meta-analysis (17 studies, 2,090 subjects) showed that patients with Alzheimer’s had significantly reduced blood manganese levels. Therefore, getting enough manganese may help prevent Alzheimer’s [49].

Plus, manganese deficiency can cause mitochondrial dysfunction and increase glutamate in the brain, both of which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease [50].

13) Acyclovir

According to an observational study of more than 30k people in Taiwan, those carrying the herpes simplex virus (HSV) had an almost 3-fold risk of developing dementia. The study also found that those taking antivirals such as acyclovir had an astounding 90% reduced risk compared to those who did not [51].

Several lines of evidence now point to the fact that people carrying the ApoE4 gene variant are much more vulnerable to the effects of HSV. Carriers of ApoE4 experience more frequent reactivations of the virus, and suffer higher levels of inflammation and cell damage [52].

Cellular studies also show that accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins occurs in HSV infected cells and that HSV DNA is found in beta-amyloid deposits [52].

Antivirals such as acyclovir may dramatically reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, especially in people with carrying the ApoE4 gene variant.

What About Genetics?

Having two copies of the ApoE ε4 variant increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease 12-fold while having one copy increases the risk 4-fold. The good news is that even if you have the “bad” genotype, targeted prevention can go a long way [53].

Read more about the actual causes of Alzheimer’s disease in this post.

There is no guaranteed way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The more you take care of your brain, combining the strategies listed above, the more effectively you can lower your risk.

The main idea is that living a healthy lifestyle, eating nutritious foods, getting enough quality sleep, and engaging in plenty of physical activity is critical to maintaining a healthy brain as you age.

Want More Targeted Ways to Enhance Brain Function?

If you’re interested in natural and targeted ways of improving your cognitive function, we recommend checking out SelfDecode’s Limitless Mind DNA Protocol. It gives genetic-based diet, lifestyle and supplement tips that can help improve your cognitive function. The recommendations are personalized based on your genes.

We also recommend SelfDecode’s comprehensive guide on the ApoE gene, with recommendations about how to lower your risk if you have the ApoE ε4 variant.

SelfDecode is a sister company of SelfHacked. The proceeds from your purchase of this product are reinvested into our research and development, in order to serve you better. Thanks for your support!

Takeaway

Your lifestyle choices, diet, and supplement regime can have a huge impact on your Alzheimer’s disease risk. 

Supporting your brain health may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease – and the sooner you start the better. 

First of all, keep your brain active. Engage in mentally-stimulating work and spend time with friends. 

Additionally, you should stop smoking and lower your stress levels. Make sure to eat nutritious foods and get plenty of healthy fats by following a Mediterranean-style diet. Aim to regularly get enough quality sleep, sun exposure, and exercise. 

Supplements that can help include antioxidants like resveratrol, curcumin, and EGCG from green tea.

About the Author

Jimmy Julajak, MSc

MS (Psychology)

Jimmy got his MSc from the University of Copenhagen.

Jimmy is a psychologist and researcher. He is particularly interested in the workings of the brain and strategies for improving brain health. He believes that people shouldn't hand over the responsibility for their health only to their doctors. His aim is to empower each person with easy-to-understand, science-based health knowledge.

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