Alzheimer’s and Diet- Is There a Connection?

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.[1]

An estimated 5 million people have Alzheimer’s disease in the United States, including approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s[2].

Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of deaths from Alzheimer’s increased by 68 percent. This is two to three times greater than deaths from heart disease (16 percent) or stroke (23 percent) during the same period. Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death among adults over age 65. The report projects that in 2014, nearly three-quarters of a million older adults (700,000) will die with the disease or from its complications. It’s also an expensive disease – total payments this year for health, long term, and hospice care are estimated to hit $214 billion[3].

Grim statistics to say the least, and this is before we even begin to delve into the emotional cost felt by family members, caregivers and the person who is suffering from this disease him or herself.

Is there any recourse? Can we challenge the odds?

As with any other illness, disease or sickness, despite the facts that genetics obviously play a role (which we can do nothing about), as does our environment (which we can address), and most importantly, what we eat and how we move can quite possibly be the single most important factor we can take charge of, in order to arm ourselves for the best possible chances of a long, healthy life.

Research is showing that while it cannot be said with certainty that any particular nutritional component causes or prevents Alzheimer’s disease, much of the evidence from studies reflects a pattern of dietary associations very similar to more established dietary risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease. Thus, patients who adopt these dietary practices will reduce their risk for heart disease and could also curtail their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease[4].

Since Alzheimer’s disease involves oxidative and inflammatory processes, leading to disruption of neuronal cell functioning and signaling, leading to neuronal cell death, the best evidence of disease prevention involves the antioxidant nutrients, vitamins E and C.[5]

Before you head to the local Whole Foods to stock up on bottles of vitamins E and C, heed the sage words of Hippocrates and let food be thy medicine.

Nutritional prevention of Alzheimer’s disease is far superior when done through foods rather than vitamin supplements. Many of the foods that are good sources of vitamin E are also rich in n-3 fatty acids and unhydrogenated, unsaturated fats which are the dietary components with the most convincing evidence of neuroprotection to date.

These foods include natural oils, nuts, seeds, fish, and eggs while patients should limit their intake of foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils, as well as butter, ice cream, commercially baked products, and margarine[6].

Increase consumption of foods rich in antioxidants.   Up the intake of wild fish. Avoid hydrogenated oils and packaged, baked products.

Sounding familiar?

Can a real Paleo diet actually prevent Alzheimer’s?

Let’s see what Dr. Cordain has to say about this topic:

“Eliminating gluten from the diet may be therapeutic for the brain, nervous system, gut, immune and endocrine systems. Gluten contains grains, which may be involved in the formation of molecules associated with brain lesions occurring in Alzheimer’s disease. There are absolutely no known nutritional or health risks with elimination of gluten containing grains (wheat, rye, barley) from your diet, and the health benefits are many.

I don’t think you will find nutritionists anywhere who do not recommend eating more fresh fruits and vegetables along with non-farmed fish.[7]

We can choose to eat an array of in season, local fresh veggies, healthy oils and fats and wild proteins, and to avoid the junk all too common in the Standard American’s regime.

But we’re not finished yet.

We can also control how much we move.

Exercising several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes may:

  • Keep thinking, reasoning and learning skills sharp for healthy individuals
  • Improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment
  • Delay the start of Alzheimer’s for people at risk of developing the disease or slow the progress of the disease

Physical activity seems to help the brain not only by keeping your blood flowing but also by increasing chemicals that protect the brain. Physical activity also tends to counter some of the natural reduction in brain connections that occurs with aging[8].

Finally, one more thing, and it’s not any less important because again it’s one thing we can take control of: our oral hygiene.

Poor dental health and gum disease may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, a new study from the University of Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry suggests.

Although past studies have suggested a link between oral health and dementia, this is the first to pinpoint a specific gum disease bacteria in the brain.

Researchers looked at donated brain samples of 10 people without dementia and 10 people with dementia and found bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis in the brains of four of those with dementia, which may play a role in changes in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, contributing to symptoms including confusion and failing memory[9].

Regular brushing, flossing and visits to the dentist are a no-brainer.

Consider also what you’re eating during the day and remember that all sugar, even that from fruit as well as that whole-wheat bagel or bowl of whole grain cereal with skim milk are negatively affecting your teeth by repeated exposure to sugar.

I can recall my own grandfather’s demise as he succumbed to his diagnosis of senile dementia.

He slowly transitioned form a gentleman who’d wake each morning, shower, shave and don a suit or another equally respectable ensemble and work away at his typewriter, working on the next screenplay, the keys of the Smith Corona clicking along like a symphony, Nag Champa sticks emitting that familiar aroma I grew to know and love… to a confused, silly at times, elderly man who no longer knew me or my mom, his youngest daughter.

In the end, the very end, he seemed childlike in a way.

I don’t think he suffered and he seemed to have a permanent grin, albeit a permanent one, pasted on each time I saw him those last few times in the hospice center he moved into.

I don’t know what his early years were like or what he ate or what his day to day experiences were, but I do know that as with anyone who has a friend or family member faced with any illness, it’s impossible not to think about ‘what if’.

And on that note, since we can’t change the past, why not educate ourselves and those around us on just what a huge impact the choices we make each and every day can play in each of our futures.

Celebrate #WorldAlzheimer’sDay by sharing all the nutrition and health knowledge you’ve learned over the years.

If just one person is helped, you’ve done a very good thing!



[1] “Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia | Alzheimer’s Association.” Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia | Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Association, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

[2] “Alzheimer’s Disease – Questions and Answers.” Alzheimer’ S Disease Questions and Answers. Department of State Health Service, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015

[3] “Incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease Continues to Rise as Boomers Age.” Association of Health Care Journalists. Association of Health Care Journalists, 19 May 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 201

[4] Morris, Martha Clare. “Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: What the Evidence Shows.” Medscape General Medicine. Medscape, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015

[5] Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Denisova NA, et al. Long-term dietary strawberry, spinach, or vitamin E supplementation retards the onset of age-related neuronal signal-transduction and cognitive behavioral deficits. J Neurosci. 1998;18:8047–8055. Abstract.

[6] Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Fish consumption and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer’s disease. Arch Neurol. 2003;60:940–946.

[7] “Alzheimer’s Disease and The Paleo Diet | Dr. Loren Cordain.” The Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2015

[8] “Alzheimer’s Disease.” : Can Exercise Prevent Memory Loss? The Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015

[9] Locke, Tim. “Can Poor Dental Health Cause Dementia?” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015