Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder of the brain that primarily affects the elderly population and is considered to be responsible for 60-80 percent of all dementia in people aged 65 or older. 5.4 million people have AD, which is diagnosed specifically by the presence of senile plaques, beta-amyloid tangles, and neurofibrillary tangles inside the brain. AD is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, based on 2009 data by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The annual medical costs were $183 billion in 2011 and were projected to rise in coming years.
According to the National Institute on Aging, damages to the brain may occur 10-20 years before symptoms begin. Countless medical studies have shown one’s diet is a major contributing factor for most diseases including AD. High blood cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis increase your risk of developing AD. Thereby, these conditions are more prevalent in populations who eat a diet high in fat, dairy, and meat than in those following a plant-based diet. The modern diet in the U.S. consists of highly processed and refined foods that are low in fiber and high in calories, carbohydrates and fat. This is called “junk” food because it fills one up but does anything but nourish the body. Many of the dietary essentials that help control mental degeneration are lost in food processing and many potentially harmful substances like pesticides, antibiotics and hormones are added to food.
Foods that should be avoided include refined sugar, dairy products, wheat, deep fried and high fat foods including animal meat. Many people notice when they eat sweets, their mental processes start to seem a bit fuzzy or cloudy. The same holds true for dairy products, contrary to most people’s beliefs based on poor nutritional education. Foods that should be eaten to reduce the risk of AD and countless other diseases include a diet rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, which include whole grains (not processed!), vegetables (especially your greens!), beans, nuts (use sparingly), seeds and fruits. These foods are high in amino acids and complex B vitamins which are the key nutritional building blocks to optimum brain function. These foods also help to increase blood circulation in the brain, improve memory and lower cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of hardening of the arteries and strokes.
Recent research released at the World’s Alzheimer’s Conference showed treatment with acupuncture increased motor skills, cognitive function, verbal skills and mood. Two recent acupuncture studies done at Wellesley College and the University of Hong Kong showed significant improvement of AD patients in the area of memory, attention span, orientation, the ability to name objects, follow verbal commands and even write a sentence.
Another important factor in the treatment of AD is keeping active both physically and mentally. Walking, Tai Chi, swimming, reading, playing games, and socializing with others are all excellent ways to keep active. As the saying goes, “if you don’t use it….you lose it” and “we are what we eat!”