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Can A Healthy Lifestyle Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?

September 16, 2016
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How helpful is a healthy lifestyle? Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine suggest that eating clean and exercising regularly can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The study examined 44 individuals with mild memory problems. The patients, ranging from 40 to 85 years old, underwent PET scans, while doctors checked for signs of Alzheimer’s. The results indicated that overall healthy patients showed less tangles, threads of tau proteins knotted inside brain cells, and lower levels of beta-amyloid deposits between nerves. On the other hand, individuals who did not exercise regularly and eat well found more threads and deposits in the brain. Dr. David Merrill, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, concludes that lifestyle choices may prevent or enhance your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. “The fact that we could detect this influence of lifestyle at a molecular level so early in a patient’s symptoms surprised us,” he said, “Alzheimer’s disease is known to be incurable, but it was not thought until recently that it can be preventable.” One lifestyle choice in particular, a Mediterranean diet, may have affected brain health positively. A Mediterranean diet consists of fish, vegetables, fruits, cereals and legumes, while reducing meat and dairy consumption. Patients with the diet showed lower plaque and tangle levels. Merrill notes that this study is the first to show a lifestyle’s direct affect levels of protein deposits, commonly associated with Alzheimer’s. Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association, acknowledges its significance. “The field is wrestling with this idea that lifestyle can influence the changes in the brain seen in Alzheimer’s disease,” she said, “We really want to understand how behaviors can change the underlying biology linked to Alzheimer’s.” Alzheimer’s disease occurs when your brain cells begin to degenerate, destroying memories and mental functions in the process. As Merrill explained, the disease is incurable, yet affects many individuals over the age of 60. Alzheimer’s is diagnosed in approximately 5.4 million US citizens alone, and costs the nation over $200 billion annually. With this new information, Merrill wants to continue studying brain scans before and after dietary changes and exercise. He will also add mental health and stress level factors into future Alzheimer’s studies. "There's lots of different ideas about what might be happening, but we don't know yet what the underlying biology is," Snyder added. By analyzing each lifestyle trait individually, researchers may be able to discover what that underlying biology is. Until this information gets released, the Alzheimer’s Association currently offers 10 ways to help your brain. Tips include exercising your body, quitting smoking, sleeping well, eating healthy and protecting your head.
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