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Eat Your Way to a Healthy Brain

Healthy Diet, Exercise, Reduce Alzheimer's Risk

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And those findings form the basis for their dietary recommendations, says Friedland.

They found that people who have the Alzheimer's gene and eat a high-fat diet during their 40s are seven times more likely to develop Alzheimer's than people who don't have the gene. When these same genetically predisposed people ate a low-fat diet in midlife, their risk of developing Alzheimer's dropped to four and a half times that of people without the ApoE gene.

In other research, Alzheimer's experts discovered that antioxidants are especially effective at fighting Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by helping to prevent the development of the protein plaques that block signals between brain cells. Some researchers suggest taking vitamin E to boost antioxidant protection. Friedland also recommends taking vitamin B supplements.

Friedland and Petot have been promoting the brain-healthy diet for several years, but only recently have their views become widely accepted. William H. Thies, PhD, Alzheimer's Association vice president for medical and scientific affairs, says that while the Association doesn't endorse a specific diet, "there are now fairly consistent findings that suggest Alzheimer's tracks along with various risk factors seen in vascular diseases such as heart disease and diabetes."

"What we are willing to say is that people need to know their numbers -- blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood [sugar]. We know it's bad to get [overweight], we know that exercise and a healthy diet are good for you," says Thies. "And while it has not been proved, it is fair to say that [social] isolation is [also] bad for your brain."

Just as exercise is good for the body, mental activity is a kind of "flexing" that is good for the brain, says Thies.

Read a book, do a crossword puzzle, play a board game, balance a checkbook, and turn off the TV, is the way Friedland puts it.

Alzheimer's disease affects approximately 4 million Americans and that number is expected to reach 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

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