While the brain may not be the largest internal organ in your body (that honor goes to the liver), it’s definitely the most complex. Every action you take, from solving the Wordle to cooking your dinner, happens because your brain successfully sent and received the necessary chemical and electrical signals.
However, certain brain diseases can impact the brain’s ability to function correctly. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease in which changes in the brain result in a loss of neurons and their connections. As a result, someone with Alzheimer’s experiences cognitive decline and may find themselves unable to function independently because of struggles with thinking, behavioral, and social skills.
While research can’t point to a single cause of Alzheimer’s, many scientists believe that genetics, lifestyle, and environment all combine to influence someone’s risk profile. We also know that Alzheimer’s has been linked to chronic inflammation. Although you can’t change your genetics, there are certain lifestyle changes that may mitigate your risk for Alzheimer’s by optimizing your brain health. Here, we’ll cover how to optimize your brain health and reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s through shifts in nutrition, movement, sleep, and inflammation.
Have you ever finished a difficult workout and found yourself ravenous later in the day? Your brain does that too. Because the brain works so hard to help you, it requires a lot of fuel to continue working. The catch: it needs the right kind of fuel that will help it (and you) function properly.
Many studies have linked nutrition to improved brain health. For example, one study found that increasing your dietary levels of DHA omega-3 fatty acids helped improve both memory and reaction time. Another study found that people that have one seafood meal per week performed better on cognitive skills tests than people who had less than one seafood meal per week.
Produce-wise, fruit and vegetables, as well as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that reduce inflammation and promote brain resilience. Studies show that people who consume 1-2 servings of leafy greens each day experience fewer memory problems and cognitive decline than people who rarely eat them (so load up on that kale and spinach). Low to medium glycemic vegetables, such as onions, beets, pumpkin and carrots, are also beneficial.
As for what not to eat, avoid processed foods to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. Sugar is a major contributor to deteriorating brain health. That’s because the blood-brain barrier, which usually helps filter out unwanted microorganisms, has a bit of a sweet tooth. The brain will absorb the vast majority of glucose calories that come into the body. But when the brain gets all this sugar in a short time, it causes neuroinflammation and even insulin resistance; in fact, some researchers have been calling this subset of Alzheimer’s “Type 3 Diabetes.”
We know exercise is good for your physical health, but it’s just as beneficial to your brain health. In fact, the brain health benefits of exercise include decreased stress, improved processing of emotions, prevention of neurological conditions, improved memory, improved blood circulation, and decreased brain fog.
These benefits exist because exercise increases “synaptic plasticity,” the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time. This synaptic plasticity is grown by directly affecting synaptic structure, and by strengthening the underlying systems that support plasticity including neurogenesis, metabolism and vascular function. This exercise-induced structural and functional change has been documented in various brain regions but has been best-studied in the hippocampus, which is key for memory formation.
Exercise helps improve cognitive function (like memory, reasoning, judgment, and thinking skills), and it can also help protect the brain from neurodegeneration by actively slowing or countering the natural deterioration of brain functions due to aging.
Finally, regular movement helps protect the body against other risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, like depression and obesity. Exercise also helps reduce inflammation; in fact, as little as 20 minutes of exercise could act as an anti-inflammatory.
Here’s some guidance as to what exercise is best for your brain health goals:
Just like your laptop functions best when it’s shut down every night and rebooted every morning, your body also benefits from at least seven hours of sleep per night. Each phase of the sleep cycle restores and rejuvenates the brain for optimal function, alertness, and memory recall. Lack of sleep can also cause some neurons to malfunction. Malfunctioning neurons affect the person’s behavior and has an impact on their performance.
Without sufficient sleep, your brain isn’t able to properly clean itself, leading toxins to build up and cognitive ability to decline. During the day, your body accumulates beta-amyloid, a protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease. At night, the cerebrospinal fluid removes the beta-amyloid metabolite from the brain. Without sleep, the protein can build up and lead to severe brain injury. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to inflammation; in fact, just one night of poor sleep might spike inflammation.
To optimize your sleep to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, maintain a consistent bedtime and wake-up time (yes, even on weekends). Creating a restful sleep environment, and maintaining good sleep hygiene habits like getting morning sunshine, limiting tech before bed, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and engaging in stress-relieving practices like meditation.
How to determine your risk factor for Alzheimer’s
Again, we can’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s. But with the advanced testing available to us at Wild Health, we can help gauge your personal risk factor based on your genetics, lifestyle, and environment. In fact, we can test to see whether you have the risk gene apolipoprotein E (APOE), which is associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s.
After understanding your risk profile, we’ll come up with a plan to modify your nutrition, movement, sleep, and more, so that we can optimize your brain health, reduce any inflammation, and lower your overall risk for Alzheimer’s.