Skimping on olive oil
cliplab.pro/ShutterstockOlive oil has been a culinary staple since practically the dawn of time—and for more reasons than its tasty flavor. It's extremely useful in the health department when consumed in moderation, offering a slew of benefits including lowering inflammation, reducing the risk of heart disease and depression, as well as dementia. In fact, olive oil is considered one of the best foods for boosting brain health—improving both focus and memory. One recent study by Temple University linked extra-virgin olive oil consumption to protection of memory, specifically learning ability, and reducing the formation of plaques on the brain that are indicators of Alzheimer's disease. Here are some other things you can do to decrease your dementia risk.
Consuming a diet high in saturated fats
Lisovskaya Natalia/ShutterstockYou already know a nutritional, well-balanced diet is essential to your heart and weight. But food's benefits for the mind—like these brain boosters—are sometimes overlooked. "The brain needs healthy fats, lean proteins, vitamins and minerals to function properly," says Howard Fillit, MD, founding executive director and chief scientist of the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) and the ADDF's Cognitive Vitality Program. Also, research shows that people who have a diet high in saturated fats, such as canola oil, are more likely to develop dementia. The best nutrition you can give your brain is a diet full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. Replace butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil, and limit your intake of red meat, instead opting for other lean protein sources including chicken and fish.
Eating too much sugar
Evgeny Karandaev/ShutterstockThe list of reasons why you should lower your sugar intake continue to mount, with one of the newest ones being that a diet high in sugar may trigger dementia. Researchers from the University of Bath and King's College London tested the brain samples of 30 individuals with and without Alzheimer's disease for glycation, or the condition of having sugar molecules in one's system. They found that those with Alzheimer's disease were more likely to have issues with a vital enzyme called MIF as a result of glycation. This meant they were able, for the first time, to link high blood sugar with Alzheimer's disease. Here are tips for kicking your sugar addiction.
Ignoring chronic illness
LStockStudio/ShutterstockUntreated hypertension and diabetes are two of the greatest risk factors for dementia such as Alzheimer's disease, explains Dr. Fillit. "Diabetics have up to 73 percent increased risk of dementia and an even higher risk of developing vascular dementia than non-diabetics," he says. "Having hypertension in middle age also increases the risk of both Alzheimer's and vascular dementia." For both diseases, managing them with medication, diet and exercise can lower dementia risk significantly. To contain—or ideally, avoid—chronic illness, be sure to keep up with your doctor's appointments. "Patients who visit doctors are less likely to get dementia, as high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension all can be modified when they're under a physician's surveillance," says Clifford Segil, DO, neurologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Drinking alcohol in excess
Senyuk Mykola/ShutterstockHitting the bottle too hard can increase your risk for many health issues, including high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, in addition to dementia. "Drinking too much can make people's brains atrophy or get pickled, causing early onset memory loss," says Dr. Segil. "Multiple studies have shown a correlation between prolonged alcohol use and cognitive complaints." In addition, years of drinking alcohol can cause rare forms or memory loss that lead to confusion, known as Wenicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It is safe for your health to drink in moderation—one drink a day for women and two for men. In fact, doing so (especially red wine) may be good for your brain health—and overall well-being—as the flavonoids in red wine are linked to a lowered risk of dementia in older people.
Fotos593/ShutterstockCigarettes and cigarette smoke contain more than 4,700 chemical compounds, including some that are highly toxic, says Dr. Fillit. In addition, studies have shown that people who smoke are at higher risk of developing all types of dementia, and a much higher risk (up to 79 percent) for Alzheimer's disease, specifically. The good news is that former smokers have a much lower dementia risk than current smokers, so the sooner you quit the better. Here are 23 ways to quit the habit for good.
Living a sedentary lifestyle
Concept Photo/ShutterstockMore than a million cases of Alzheimer's disease in the United States can been attributed to a lack of exercise, and yet nearly one-third of Americans remain physically inactive. "Strong research shows that exercise benefits the brain and can reduce your risk of falls, age-related diseases, and even death," says Dr. Fillit. When exercise is pumping oxygen and blood to your heart and muscles, your brain is benefitting too. The World Health Organization recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity) aerobic exercise every week, which equates to working out 30 minutes a day around five times a week. Check out all the ways exercise can save your brain.
Lack of mental stimulation
tadamichi/ShutterstockJust as it's important to exercise your body, it's equally important to exercise your mind. Spending too much time glued to your couch, passively cycling through your Netflix queue instead of actively engaging your brain may increase your risk of dementia. "Research suggests that keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections," says Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer's Association. Tapping these benefits is easy, too: "Complete a jigsaw or crossword puzzle, play games which require strategic thinking like chess or bridge or take a class online or at your local community college," Snyder suggests. Find out which brain exercises improve memory best.
Being a loner
shurkin_son/ShutterstockLast year, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital published a study finding an association between feeling of loneliness and social isolation and build up of beta-amyloid—a protein in the brain linked to Alzheimer's. "This corresponds to earlier research that lonely people had double the risk of Alzheimer's than their more social peers," says Dr. Fillit. Even if you're more of an introvert and enjoy your alone time, try to put more effort into pursuing social activities, for example joining a book club, volunteering at an animal shelter or participating in community sports.
Not getting enough sleep
AnemStyle/ShutterstockDr. Fillit points to research linking sleep problems—such as insomnia and sleep apnea—with an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease. "In addition, a recent study estimates that 15 percent of Alzheimer's disease cases may be attributable to sleep problems." Other recent research published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia involving nearly 7,500 women found that averaging less than six hours a night of sleep raised risk of dementia by 36 percent. To lower your risk, Dr. Fillit suggests establishing a bedtime routine, maintaining a regular sleep schedule and treating sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. It's also a good idea not to exercise or eat within two to three hours before bedtime, as both can impair sleep. Get some more tips on sleeping better.