For years, scientists have struggled to pinpoint a clear cause of Alzheimer’s disease, the devastating neurological disorder that robs patients of their memory and ability to interact with others to such a degree that patients don’t typically live only four to eight years after being diagnosed. But several new studies have discovered a possible link between the disease and inflammation in the brain.
Despite what its name suggests, inflammation is not a totally negative phenomenon: it is a physical immune response intended to protect the brain from infections and pathogens. But problems arise when the inflammation goes into overdrive.
“Inflammation is a normal reaction of the body, but there is a tipping point where too much or prolonged inflammation is bad and can cause a downward spiral process, which in this case further promotes neurodegeneration,” explains Mauricio Concha. , neurologist in Sarasota. Intercoastal Medical Group.
While inflammation has been noted in recent years for its links to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, new understanding of a potential link between neuroinflammation and Alzheimer’s disease is particularly important because of what she excludes. In the past, scientists believed that the presence of amyloid plaques – proteins that can build up between neurons – was one of the factors that distinguished those who would eventually get Alzheimer’s disease from those who would not. . But after discovering signs of protein accumulation in the brains of healthy people who died in the 90s, the link lacked certainty. So the scientists wondered what the real cause was?
The answer seems to be, in part, inflammation.
Some of this is old news, says Stephanie Peabody, neuropsychologist and executive director of Lakewood Ranch’s Brain Health Initiative. Scientists have already figured out that inflammation is a key piece of the puzzle, “a risk factor for brain health,” as Peabody puts it. Now they just have to figure out what can be done to compensate for it before the neurological deterioration begins.
This comes with its own challenges. Doctors can’t accurately screen patients for Alzheimer’s disease based on their current levels of neuroinflammation, Concha says. Blood tests, on the other hand, don’t offer enough information about neuroinflammation, and while examining cerebrospinal fluid may work, it’s “experimental and not commercially available,” says Concha. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is no real cure for Alzheimer’s disease, so there is little use for preliminary screening at this time.
But for those who want to train their brain as they would their muscles and joints to limit their risk of Alzheimer’s, it is possible. That’s a big part of the work the Brain Health Initiative wants to do in Sarasota: to prepare people for their future by helping them create good habits right now.
“We knew we had to do something about people’s diets, sleep patterns, sedentary lifestyles, stress, and personal engagement,” Peabody says. “All of these risk factors have a common thread: they partly lead to chronic inflammation.”
There is a lesson buried here: what we have made for ourselves can often be undone. Our bodies are changing and the damage is not necessarily permanent.
But what changes do you need to make? As with many healthy lifestyle habits, adjustments may seem gradual, but can have big impacts. First, start by eating what Peabody calls a “brain-healthy anti-inflammatory diet.” These foods include what you might instinctively imagine: vegetables, especially leafy greens like broccoli, kale, and spinach; fruits, in particular berries; nuts; seeds; and fatty fish, such as mackerel, anchovies and salmon, rightly named as one of the best foods to eat before taking a test.
What you drink matters almost as much as what you eat. Peabody recommends green tea and, surprisingly, coffee, as long as it’s not loaded with sugar or cream.
A healthy diet goes hand in hand with an active lifestyle. Sitting most of the day has been linked to neuroinflammation, but even 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on a regular basis can make a big difference.
Also: Get some sleep. About 70 million Americans have chronic sleep problems, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is to reach somewhere in the middle of the ideal time: seven to nine hours a night.
The following two tips may seem obvious, but it’s time to quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake. Even those who have smoked for most of their lives can see their inflammation improve dramatically after just a few years without it, according to Peabody. Reducing alcohol consumption is less obvious. The orientation is not to stop completely. In fact, drinking a glass of wine a day can actually reduce inflammation. Do not drink too much.
Perhaps the most difficult advice to follow is to limit chronic stress. Just like inflammation, stress in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; the problem arises when there are too many. A body that becomes desensitized to the release of cortisol is a dangerous thing. The key to limiting stress comes from many of the above tips: eat well, exercise and sleep well at night.
Adjusting these daily habits to reduce inflammation can actually reduce the risk of dementia and other neurological diseases by at least 40%, according to Peabody. And for those of you who might be wondering if turning 70, 80, or even 90 gets you past the point of no return, the answer is no.
“The earlier you can start, the better, but it’s never too early or too late,” says Peabody. “You can start living a brain-healthy lifestyle whether you’re 90, 9, or 9 months old. You will see improvements in your energy, in pain, in your clarity of thought and in your ability to increase your memory, your cognitive functions and your emotional functions.