According to the Alzheimer’s Organization, 500,000 Americans develop Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) each year. In fact, AD is responsible for killing more Americans than prostate and breast cancer combined.
And the latest research shows that environmental triggers play an influential role in the development of AD. Once thought to be contracted primarily through genetics, scientists have learned that over 95 percent of Alzheimer’s cases are the result of environmental factors. Scientists have shown that the development of AD is based on ongoing inflammation, and the buildup of two proteins in the brain called amyloid beta and tau, which are involved in plaque and tangle formation.
The cause of the inflammation and buildup of these proteins rests in the immune reactivity caused by environmental, internal and external triggers that are involved in amyloid plaque and tangle formation. When detected, the immune system produces antibodies to attack and neutralize the environmental antigens. The problem is that sometimes the antibodies also attack self-tissues, which have similar structure to the antigen. This is known as cross-reactivity. As a result of cross-reactivity, serious damage can be done to various brain tissues, the nervous system and growth factors that sustain and protect cognitive functions.
More simply put, the immune system’s attack on bacteria and other environmental triggers cross-reacts with certain human proteins, causing an autoimmune attack against the person’s own brain tissue. These findings, though complicated and disturbing, offer hope for progress on preventative measures we can all take when it comes to conditions of cognitive decline like AD. We now know that having a family history of AD does not have to lead to a diagnosis of dementia.
As each one of us is unique in structure, genetic makeup and function, we also each respond differently to environmental factors including allergens in the air, foods that we consume and chemicals and other elements that we are exposed to. So, what affects one person will not necessarily affect the next person the same way. Although there are elements (such as lead and mercury) that are known to be toxic, or foods (like dairy and gluten) that are common allergens for many, none of these will affect everybody the same. While one person’s system may react greatly to something, the next individual may not react at all. Unfortunately, sensitivities to environmental factors, whether food or otherwise, can cause serious autoimmune reactivity and cross-reactivity that can lead to many different diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
This scientific discovery promotes the importance of AD prevention rather than focusing solely on treatment. With that in mind, here are some proactive measures that you can take for the early detection and prevention of cognitive decline and AD:
- Eat a healthy diet – We all know that a healthy diet rich in vegetables and healthy protein is the key to overall good health and disease prevention. Alzheimer’s Disease is no exception. The inflammation and even insulin resistance that results from sugars, alcohol, dairy, trans fats and processed foods can inhibit the communication of brain cells through the damage of neurons. For this reason, diabetics are more susceptible to AD. A diet rich in vegetables, healthy proteins and Omega-3 fats is the best fuel for the brain. Many medical professionals believe a Mediterranean diet to be excellent for the prevention of AD.
- Identifying and removing environmental triggers that your body is reactive to – Pathological changes of Alzheimer’s are classified into three stages:
- Mild Cognitive Impairment
It is in the preclinical stage that testing for triggers can be the most beneficial and present the most telling results. Alzheimer’s LINX™, a groundbreaking new test for detecting Alzheimer’s-Associated Immune Reactivity, can help detect antibodies up to 20 years before symptoms actually occur. Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical laboratory specializing in environmentally-induced autoimmunity, is the first to offer a test of this kind, giving promise to the early prevention of AD.
- Get adequate sleep – The rule of 8 hours of sleep a night is a general guideline. As with environmental reactions, individuals differ in the amount of sleep they require. This variance does not only occur from one person to the next, but also from one day to the next, or one life stage to the next. Listen to your body and get the rest that you need. Our bodies heal and cells regenerate when we sleep. It is important to listen to the signals your body is sending you to adequately recharge for healthy physical and brain function.
- Exercise – According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of developing AD by up to 50 percent. Exercise protects against AD and an overall loss in cognitive function by stimulating the brain’s ability to maintain old connections as well as make new ones.
We tend to associate our diets with how we look and how it affects our cardiovascular health. Likewise, we attribute harmful environmental elements to the development of cancer. Thanks to recent medical findings, we have learned that the food we put in our bodies and the environmental elements we are exposed to can directly affect our brain and its cognitive function and wellbeing. If you have played high-impact sports, are experiencing memory loss, suffer from diabetes or gastrointestinal disorders, have a family history of AD, or you are just interested in preventing the development of AD, please speak to your health care provider to learn about your options. Remember that prevention supersedes treatment for any disease!