Aug
18
2018

Poor Diet Habits Can Cause Alzheimer’s

A new study from the Brock University in St. Catharine’s, Ont. showed that poor diet habits can cause Alzheimer’s. Specifically the risk for Alzheimer’s was a combination of high saturated fats in the diet in combination with too much sugar.

The third triggering factor was the normal aging process that also contributed to the development of Alzheimer’s.

The study showing that poor diet habits can cause Alzheimer’s

Master student Bradley Baranowski and PhD student Kirsten Bott conducted the experiments under the supervision of Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Rebecca MacPherson. The experimental group consisted of middle-aged mice that were observed for 13 weeks. They received a high-fat/high-sugar diet. The control group received a normal diet.

The experimental group with the high fat/high sugar diet was aging prematurely. They also showed elevated inflammatory markers, elevated insulin levels and cellular stress. Dr.MacPherson mentioned that the middle-aged mice would be comparable to humans aged 40 to 60. “[We’re] trying to see what the initiating signals are that can lead to progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” MacPherson said.

Lifestyle choices matter

“People often view Alzheimer’s disease as a genetic disease when in fact, genetic mutations leading to Alzheimer’s accounts for less than five per cent of cases,” Baranowski said in the press release. “This study highlights that our lifestyle choices matter and can potentially put us at risk of developing or progressing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

Other studies that support the concept that lifestyles matter

Over the years many other researchers have analyzed what factors contribute to getting Alzheimer’s. It probably is a combination of several factors.

Age

Age is one of the major risk factors. Most Alzheimer’s patients are above the age of 65. Above 65 the risk doubles every 5 years. By the time we are 85 our risk is 1/3 to get it.

Family history

If you have a parent, brother or sister who came down with Alzheimer’s, you have a higher risk of getting it.

Environmental factors

Often environmental factors like eating too much sugar or too much saturated fat are confused with family history factors. Nutritional habits in a family can be like a tradition. It may appear as if this is a family history of Alzheimer’s when in reality poor eating habits were passed on from generation to generation. A lot more research is necessary in this area.

History of Head injury

A history of a closed head injury carries with it a higher risk of Alzheimer’s later in life. We need to use seat belts in cars and helmets when bicycling. Avoid risky sports activities where you would sustain a traumatic brain injury.

Heart disease

There is a link between heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Alzheimer’s. When brain arteries get clogged, the brain deposits more beta-amyloid protein as plaques. This is a sign of early Alzheimer’s disease.

Older Latinos and older African Americans

Older Latinos have a 1 ½-times higher risk than older whites to get Alzheimer’s and dementia. On the other hand older African-Americans are 2-times more likely than older whites to come down with Alzheimer’s. The reason for this is not entirely clear. But a big factor likely is the cardiovascular risk that is higher in Latinos and African Americans. This translates into a higher risk for Alzheimer’s.

Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease

There are more publications that point out that Alzheimer’s disease is largely preventable by cutting out those factors that contribute to its development.

Here is a list of steps to follow in order to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. First of all treat diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity aggressively. This eliminates cardiovascular risk factors, which keeps the brain vessels open.
  2. Furthermore quit smoking. By preserving the cardiovascular system the brain stabilizes.
  3. Another important factor is physical activity: exercise daily! This maintains cardiopulmonary fitness. It also keeps your brain vessels open.
  4. Also, take care of your diet: eat balanced meals and avoid junk food. A Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet are examples of diets that help prevent Alzheimer’s. Note that these are low sugar and low saturated fat diets. This fits the initial observation that you read in the beginning of this blog. Mice on a high fat/high sugar diet showed premature aging and developed Alzheimer’s. Knowing this, it is good to do the opposite: cut out excessive saturated fats and sugar. Sugar increase LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which leads to hardening of arteries.
  5. Mental stimulation is another important factor for preventing Alzheimer’s. With lifelong bilingualism there was a delay of about 4.5 years in onset of dementia. The ACTIVE study is in the link above. It showed that mental stimulation could indeed delay the onset of Alzheimer’s over a 10-year period. 
Poor Diet Habits Can Cause Alzheimer’s

Poor Diet Habits Can Cause Alzheimer’s

Conclusion

Above all, I cannot emphasize enough how important a healthy diet is for a healthy mind. The combination of an overabundance of saturated fats and refined sugar was found to be the cause of premature aging in mice. But likewise, we know from human trials that this also causes premature aging in humans and higher incidence of Alzheimer’s. As a result, it is logical to recommend a lower intake of saturated fat and to reduce sugar intake. It will prevent hardening of the arteries and slow down the development of Alzheimer’s.

But there are many other recommendations to avoid getting Alzheimer’s: quit smoking. Stay physically active by exercising daily. Use a Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet to prevent Alzheimer’s. Clinical trials with these diets have shown them to be effective. Treat diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity aggressively as this will stabilize your metabolism. As a result it also prevents Alzheimer’s. Finally, stimulate your brain every day by doing various activities. This forms new synaptic connections inside your brain and postpones Alzheimer’s from setting in as you age.

Apr
21
2013

World Health Day 2013, Focus on Hypertension

In the US high blood pressure causes 348,000 American deaths per year, in the world its death toll amounted to 9.4 million every year. This is unfortunate as high blood pressure is an illness, which can both be effectively treated and prevented. Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) causes heart attacks and strokes, can cause kidney failure, heart failure and blindness. You control blood pressure with lifestyle changes and/or medication,  and these risks go away.

The age standardized death rate  (Ref. 1) for both sexes in the US for heart disease is 80.5 per 100,000 and for strokes 25.4. In Canada these rates are 66.2 and 22.9; in Germany 75.0 and 31.2; in Italy 51.7 and 34.9, in Japan 31.2 and 36.7. The death rates from cardiovascular disease per 100,000 people in the same countries is as follows: in the US 172.2, in Canada 130.7, in Germany 200.2, in Italy 153.5 and in Japan 107.1.

There are obviously significant differences in these countries, which I will discuss further below.

On the occasion of the World Health Day, which was celebrated on 7 April 2013 to commemorate the founding of the WHO in 1948, with the topic of high blood pressure the World Health Organization has edited a PDF publication of 155 pages entitled “Global Atlas on cardiovascular disease prevention and control” (Ref.1, be patient, loads slowly). In it prevention and treatment for high blood pressure are discussed in detail. This text points out that there has been a remarkable decline in death rates from heart attacks and strokes (collectively called “cardiovascular disease”) between 1981 and 2000 in the United Kingdom. A thorough analysis of this showed that 58% of this decline was due to risk factor reduction in the whole population (reduction of smoking and heavy alcohol consumption, reduced salt intake, combatting physical inactivity and reduction of saturated fat intake). The other 42% of the decline in cardiovascular disease is due to treatment by a physician. So, it is clear from this that the majority of mortality prevention comes from the patient, less than 50% comes from the treating physician. However, it is important that physicians will educate their patients to cut out risk factors themselves in order to prevent hypertension.

World Health Day 2013, Focus on Hypertension

World Health Day 2013, Focus on Hypertension

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

In the past it was thought that most cases of high blood pressure would be due to “essential hypertension”, a term saying “we don’t know what causes high blood pressure”. Many physicians still use this term. Only a small amount of cases were considered “secondary” hypertension where the causes were known (e.g. kidney disease, hormonal imbalance, pregnancy). But in the meantime research by Harvard University and other research institutions has shown that there are a number of specific causes that contribute to high blood pressure, either alone or in combination.

Here are the commonly known causes: too much salt in our diet; we tend to not eat enough vegetables and salads; we like to sit in cars, in front of the TV or in front of the computer (physical inactivity). Many people still smoke, although tobacco is known to cause high blood pressure and lung cancer. Too much alcohol is known to cause hypertension as well. So the following steps will prevent high blood pressure :

  1. consuming less salt
  2. eating a balanced diet (preferably the DASH diet)
  3. engaging in regular physical activity
  4. avoiding tobacco use
  5. avoiding harmful use of alcohol (more than 2 oz. or 60 Grams per day)

Diabetes is known to worsen the risk for heart attacks and strokes and increases the risk of high blood pressure as well. So, some hidden risk factors for high blood pressure related to diabetes are as follows: a high fasting blood sugar; obesity; food with too much fat, too much sugar and too many starches (not enough complex carbohydrates).

What Can Be Done To Reduce Death Rates From High Blood Pressure?

As Canada is one of the countries where the death rate from strokes and heart attacks is lower than in the US or Germany, I like to point out some of the reasons for this. I practiced medicine in Canada for many years. The “Canadian Hypertension Education Program” have been guidelines for practicing physicians to follow providing effective screening and treatment of high blood pressure. Cardiologists at various continuing education conferences have promoted this. At my office I had a hypertension recall program where my staff called every patient with high blood pressure into the office every 3 months. We would review the home-measured blood pressure readings from the patient (recorded in a little booklet). I also took the blood pressure of the patient and so did my staff on the patient’s arrival. We reviewed the blood pressure medication and reviewed the possible side effects. The patient was also told what to do, if the blood pressure would be higher than normal (possible adjustments of the medication at home). I also encouraged my patients with regard to the life style issues (the 5 points mentioned above). Over the years the number of patients who developed heart attacks or strokes declined, as one would expect.

A recent review in the Canadian Family Physician mentions that there is room for improvement regarding the Canadian statistics. As mentioned above Italy and Japan are doing better with regard to mortality from heart attacks and strokes compared to Canada. We have a health care system in Canada that is available to every Canadian resident and funded by provincial taxes. In this system patients do not have to pay for office visits (although they pay for it indirectly through taxes). For the patient with high blood pressure it means that there is a system in place, which helps prevent cardiovascular disease and treats high blood pressure effectively. In my opinion the home recording of self-measured blood pressure readings at least once per day with a home blood measure monitor is vital to encourage the patient to be engaged with regard to his/her blood pressure problem.

Newer Findings About High Blood Pressure

For years physicians did not know where high blood pressure came from. In the last few years research has shown that nitric oxide plays an important role in preventing high blood pressure. It is produced by the lining of your arteries (by the so-called “endothelial cells”) and is the natural artery relaxer.

Foods that produce nitric oxide in the body are spinach, kale, red beet, cabbage varieties and other vegetable greens. These foods, which are also contained in the DASH diet, and regular exercise will stimulate the lining of your arteries to produce nitric oxide, which prevents high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. If all these measures and the above recommendations to prevent high blood pressure do not help, it is time to treat it. As already indicated above it is important that the patient who has been identified as needing high blood pressure treatment with medication, takes the medicine regularly (called ”compliance”). By keeping the blood pressure reading below 120/80 you prevent your risk of getting a heart attack, a stroke, heart failure or blindness from broken retinal vessels. If the patient develops any side effect from the medication, it is important to see the physician about this right away. It may be that the medication has to be adjusted or altered.

Nitric oxide can be taken as a supplement (Neo40), which allows the endothelial lining to be regenerated as indicated in this interview with the inventor, Dr. Nathan Bryan from the University of Texas Health Center in Houston.

The older we are, the more likely it is that our blood pressure will be high. As this link shows, 2 out of 3 people above the age of 60 in the US have systolic hypertension (the upper value of the blood pressure is elevated). As we age, it appears that the lining of the arteries do no longer produce the required amount of NO (nitric oxide) to prevent high blood pressure and prevent hardening of the arteries. So, it would be wise to adopt the Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables, spinach, kale, bok choy, Swiss chard and others to boost your NO production, but still measure your blood pressure regularly. If you do not have a home blood pressure monitor, go to a pharmacy that allows you to check your blood pressure for free. If it is above 120 over 80 seek the advice of a health professional. You can find more information in Ref. 1.

In essence, what World Health Day 2013 asks us to do is to pay attention to your blood pressure and make sure it is normal.

More on high blood pressure: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/

References:

Ref. 1)  http://www.nethealthbook.com/articles/cardiovasculardisease_hypertension.php

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014