Alzheimer ’s disease – the dreaded AD. A scary thought for those of us getting older – and guess what – that’s all of us! Purported ways to avoid it or ameliorate its effects are plentiful. Just watch the commercials for learning exercises and brain booster nutrients (so called). But, unfortunately, there’s little data to back up any real impact of these well touted interventions. One area that has come to the fore recently is the role of “Lifestyle”. You know the drill: Avoiding excess alcohol and stress, eat nutritious foods, and get regular exercise. You’ve heard it all before no doubt, as general principles of keeping fit.
Well it turns out that the role of lifestyle in AD is real and significant. A recent study showed that people who optimized the four aforementioned lifestyle factors cut their chance of getting the disease by 50%. Let’s consider that number again… the incidence of AD was ½ in people who followed healthy lifestyles compare to people who did not. And mind you, that reduction holds up for people with all kinds of genetic backgrounds.
Just as an aside, the role of genetics in AD is complicated. In the case of early onset AD, which is relatively rare, any one of a handful of genes do render a person at much greater risk than the general population. But for the much more common sporadic version of AD, which effects older adults, genes play a relatively small role in disease onset.
OK, back to our topic.. Now you might wonder why this simple “Lifestyle prescription” might have such a profound impact on brain function. While no one knows, really, the most likely scenario is that a healthy lifestyle supports a healthy blood vessel system. The capillaries that feed the brain are the same ones that feed the heart, the muscles, the liver, the kidney, etcetera. A famous physician, Sir William Osler, said many years ago “Longevity Is vascular question“, and I would say that this includes functional brain longevity. Modern science is backing up his proposition more each day.
We can’t eliminate the possibility of getting this devastating disease, but we can reduce it. So let’s find a quiet place and time to relax at the end of the day, get a good night’s rest, pass up that second (or third) glass of wine, substitute a cup of yogurt for the donut, and let the dog take us for a walk instead of watching yet another TV rerun. Compared to the intricacies of our brain, with over 100 billion nerve cells, even a marvelous structure like the sun is a trivial contrivance. The brain that each of us carries in our head is arguably the crowning achievement in God’s creation. Let’s do what we can to take care of it!