Eating to Slow the Progression of Alzheimer’s
At the 2012 Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease Conference held in Monte Carlo, Monaco, we presented groundbreaking new evidence based on recent clinical trials showing that specific nutritional interventions can significantly improve memory function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
This is exciting news, since AD is anticipated to be the largest health crisis of our lifetimes. Already AD is the sixth-leading cause of death in the US, and more than five million (one in eight) older Americans have AD. Following a brain-healthy diet will benefit anyone over 40, anyone with a family history of AD, and anyone experiencing problems with memory.
Nutritional interventions can buy time for AD patients and their families. Scientists have found a predictive marker for AD—a protein called amyloid beta—that can be detected up to 25 years before the onset of the disease, giving future AD patients time to implement neuroprotective measures. Further, new research shows that specific nutritional interventions may delay the onset of AD in memory-compromised patients by two years—potentially long enough to see a significant breakthrough in treatment. These interventions can also improve memory function in AD and MCI (or “pre-AD”) patients, a win-win for the patient, family, and caregivers.
Here are 11 memory-boosting dietary recommendations, based on the latest scientific research and our clinical experience treating patients with AD and MCI.
- Proportion your macronutrients.
Every day make sure that you aim for 25 percent of your total calories from fat (but less than seven percent saturated fat); 30 to 45 percent from complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole foods low on the glycemic index); and 25 to 35 percent from high-quality lean protein.
- Wean yourself off high-glycemic carbs.
These include sugars, high fructose corn syrup, processed cereals and grains, anything baked, ice cream and sorbet, crackers, salty snacks such as chips and pretzels, and anything made with white flour.
- Eat Mediterranean style.
A brain-healthy Mediterranean-style diet includes fruits and vegetables; lean protein like fish, chicken, and turkey; low-fat yogurt and cheeses; and nuts and seeds. Stay away from red meat and processed foods.
Have more good fat and less bad.
Brain foods high in good fats include: olive oil, avocados, certain nuts, natural peanut butter, certain seeds, and certain fish. Foods high in bad, or saturated, fat include: most fast foods, anything hydrogenated, dried coconut, butter, animal fats, milk chocolate and white chocolate, and cheese.
- Feed your brain antioxidants.
Antioxidant-rich foods are great for mental function. Some of the best are berries, kale, 100 percent-pure unsweetened cocoa powder, mushrooms, onions, beans, seeds, sardines, herring, trout, and Alaskan wild salmon.
- Boost your omega-3 intake.
Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are essential for memory function and brain health. Most of us don’t get enough from dietary sources (such as fish), so consider high-quality, pure fish oil supplements that contain a minimum of 250 mg of DHA in each capsule. Aim for 1,000 to 1,500 mg of DHA daily if approved by the treating physician.
- Consume enough brain vitamins.
Ensure adequate intake of folic acid, B6, B12, and vitamin D in particular. If you’re not eating vitamin-rich foods on a regular basis, it’s good to supplement as needed in pill or liquid form.
- Choose whole foods.
In general, whole foods have only one ingredient—for example, strawberries, broccoli, or barley. If you must have a convenience (manufactured) food on occasion, find those packaged, canned and frozen items with the fewest ingredients, and look for ingredients that you readily recognize and understand.
- Opt for low- or nonfat dairy.
Any recipe you make with full-fat milk, cheese, or yogurt can be made with nonfat versions. If you drink whole milk or half-and-half in your coffee, try mixing it with skim milk and increasing the proportion of nonfat to high fat every day. Pretty soon you’ll be used to it and never have the urge to go back.
- Enjoy a copy of two of joe.
One to three cups of caffeinated coffee early in the day may be beneficial to your brain over time. Studies done in Europe over several years demonstrate that men who drank coffee regularly for many years showed less of a decline on memory tests than those who did not drink coffee.
- Fast 12 hours at night.
If you routinely wake up at 6:00 a.m., try to eat your last meal at 6:00 the night before. There is scientific evidence that substances called ketone bodies (produced when there are no carbohydrates to burn for fuel) may have a protective effect on brain cells.
Harvard-trained neurologist Richard Isaacson, MD, and leading nutrition and brain researcher Christopher Ochner, PhD, are the authors of The Alzheimer’s Diet: A Step-by-Step Nutritional Approach for Memory Loss Prevention and Treatment. You can find out more about the book at thealzheimersdiet.com.