Science has not yet arrived at a complete understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. However, recent findings have confirmed the association between personality and neuropathology, in that certain personality traits can increase Alzheimer’s risk.
The results of the study conducted by Terracciano et al. show that individuals with higher neuroticism and lower conscientiousness have increased amounts of amyloid and tau proteins in the brain. These two proteins, toxic to the brainare involved in the Alzheimer’s process, the disease that is the fifth leading cause of death among adults aged 65 or older.
These changes in the brain, caused by behaviors and emotions, now can be assessed in living individuals, thanks to the advances in technology.
This evidence of how cognitive problems can lead to disease development, togetherer with the positive effects of a healthy diet, vitamins, and exercise, discussed below in this article, strengthen the holistic approach to Alzheimer’s prevention.
Alzheimer’s Is Linked to Personality Traits
Science is continuously researching to understand what causes the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), affecting 5.8 million Americans aged 65 or older. HAS meta analysis published in 2018 by an Italian team of scientists primarily revealed that personality traits are significantly associated with AD diagnosis. Results from ten studies, pooled in this analysis, suggest that AD patients had a significantly higher level of neuroticism, but lower levels of openness and extraversion, when their personality was evaluated by self-rated or informant-rated measures. The findings of this meta-analysis indirectly supported the idea that specific premorbid personality traits can be harbingers of AD.
The findings of the meta-analysis have been confirmed in the recent study, Personality Associations With Amyloid and Tau: Results From the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging and Meta-analysis. Teacher. Antonio Terracciano from the Geriatrics Department at the College of Medicine at Florida State University and his team focused on the same two traits associated with dementia—neuroticismand conscientiousness—and the pathological changes they might make in the brain.
The findings of this study are a combination of the results from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) as well as the results from two meta-analyses.
In the BLSA, participants, dementia-free, underwent amyloid and tau positron emission tomography, in addition to completing the revised NEO Personality inventory. The tomography scan showed that neuroticism was associated with a higher cortical amyloid burden, while a lower burden was identified in conscientious individuals. The findings with tau in the entorhinal cortex were similar.
The two meta-analyses, performed within the study, had similar findings: participants with higher scores in neuroticism and lower in conscientiousness had more amyloid and tau deposits.
The overall conclusion suggests that personality traits can contribute to amyloid and tau deposition in the brain, two proteins responsible for the plaques and tangles in the brains of people with AD.
These learnings support the idea of working on behavior and taking self-aware measures like stress management and being physically active. These and other positive lifestyle changes can lower neuroticism and increase conscientiousness and consequently reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.
Healthy Food and Lifestyle to Keep the Brain Healthy
Alzheimer’s is a slowly progressing and irreversible disease that begins decades before the first symptoms occur. Aside from data about personality traits linked to AD, there is growing scientific evidence of some healthy habits that prevent diabetes, heart diseases, or cancer, and may reduce the risk of subjective cognitive decline at the same time.
Healthy Food to Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk
The introduction of dietary changes to reduce the risk of diabetes type 2 and heart disease development became a consistent part of the overall treatment. Moreover, having a heart-healthy diet or controlling diabetes type 2 through food can be beneficial for the brain too.
A recent study suggests that cholesterol and glucose management can lower AD risk. Results show that increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in early (age 35-50) and middle (age 51-60) adulthood was associated with a decrease in AD risk. On the contrary, increased glucose in middle adulthood was associated with increased AD risk.
Tea Mediterranean diet or its variation, MIND, are well-known diets that doctors prescribe for heart disease or high blood pressure. This diet is based on the dietary tradition of Greece and southern Italy, regions where locals have low rates of chronic diseases and higher life expectancy.
The Mediterranean diet is nothing but having natural and fresh food, lots of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains, but also:
- Fish and seafood, eggs, cheese, or yogurt, recommended for animal proteins’ consumption, while red meat is reduced to a few times per month.
- Butter and margarine should be replaced with olive oil that contains healthy fats, as well as avocados, nuts, oily fish like salmon, and other healthy fat foods.
- Water as the main beverage daily and a glass of wine.
Researchers suggest that practicing a Mediterranean diet for many years instead of a Western diet (full of red meat, saturated fats, and refined sugar) may delay AD progression by as much as 3.5 years.
“It all points to the way we eat putting us at risk for Alzheimer’s down the line. If your diet isn’t balanced, you really need to make an effort to fix it, if not for your body, then for your brain.” – Mosconi says.
Curcumin in Treatment and Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
Many of us know curcumin, the Indian herb that is used in curry. But the medical benefits of curcumin are not widely recognized or frequently used. Modern medicine extensively studies the effects of this “multi-anti” agent in the treatment of many medical conditions, including dementia and traumatic brain injuries.
Curcumin can support the immune system to clear amyloid protein in the AD brain, and as an antioxidant and with its anti-inflammatory effect, curcumin has a positive effect on nerve cell inflammation that improves memory and eases symptoms.
Curcumin intake decreases the risk for AD, which may prevent progression of the disease. All the available evidence on the positive effects of curcumin so far makes it one of the most promising compounds and a basis for the development of therapeutics for Alzheimer’s treatment.
Vitamins and Omega-3
The overall importance of vitamin intake to being healthy is well-known. Going deeper into their roles in the human body, we can find out that some are beneficial for the prevention of cognitive decline.
- Vitamin E – Use of the vitamin E and C supplements in combination is associated with a reduction in AD prevalence and incidence. When mild to moderate AD patients take alpha-tocopherol, it slows their functional decline.
- Vitamin D – A deficiency of this vitamin is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Vitamin B1 – This plays an important role in several basic cell functions to release energy after nutrient breakdown; if deficient in the body, brain and heart problems appearthe two organs that require constant energy supply.
- Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic acid is important for the fatty acids’ breakdown for body energy and important for the brain, which is nearly 60 percent fat.
- Vitamin B9 – Folic acid is involved in protein metabolism and supports brain health. If the body doesn’t have sufficient quantities, weakness, fatigue, difficulty in concentration, and other signs may appear.
- Vitamin B12 – HAS deficiency of cobalamin may cause memory problems that can be reversed with proper treatment.
The omega-3 fatty acid that is present in salmon and some other fish reduces beta-amyloid plaques in mice, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Studies on humans don’t yet have strong positive evidence. Some did not show a slower cognitive decline when the omega-3 supplement was taken, while the other study showed improvement in learning and memory in individuals with age-related cognitive decline.
While stronger evidence and recommendations are awaited for using supplements in AD prevention, natural food is a great source of vitamins and omega-3; therefore, healthy food habits can support cognitive health at the same time.
Physical Activity and Brain Aerobics in Alzheimer’s Risk Reduction
Tea Alzheimer’s Association recommends that people with Alzheimer’s should engage in mental and physical activities in addition to following a healthy diet and taking the appropriate supplements.
Regular physical activity is beneficial because it helps to maintain blood flow throughout the entire body, including the brain. Normal blood flow provides the brain with the nutrients it needs, which in turn will slow the progression of the disease. In addition to dietary changes, physical activity can help in regulating glucose and cholesterol levels. Regular physical activity can take the form of anything from walking to swimming to biking to gardening or anything else.
Social activity maintains better brain health. In some individuals, Alzheimer’s disease may increase anxiety, in addition to memory loss. Keeping individuals with Alzheimer’s socially active will help them to feel less withdrawn by society, improve their self-confidence, and reduce anxiety and depression they experience. Instead of being isolated, people with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones should put forth an effort to maintain the sense of belonging.
Brain exercise is important to build new cells and connections in the brain. That will protect mental health from declining. Playing chess, puzzles, or Sudoku will stimulate thinking and problem-solving, while constantly reading will stimulate the memory activity of the brain. It’s important to challenge the brain with new or different tasks for brain exercise and to improve its function.
Taking care of mental health is coming into a greater focus than ever before.
Many Risk Reduction Measures Are in Our Hands Even Today
Many questions about Alzheimer’s remain open and science works toward finding the answers. Till then, there are plenty of changes that some of us can introduce now to prevent AD development.
Despite numerous articles talking about the implications of stress and the importance of stress management, many people still struggle to handle it. Alzheimer’s is now one more reason to take stress more seriously and work on its reduction, alone or with professional help. Getting negative emotions under control, becoming goal-oriented, responsible, and organized, will improve our productivity today and prevent AD development.
We can proactively reduce the risk by consuming healthier food and becoming physically and mentally active. It is not that difficult, is it? A healthy lifestyle in early adulthood has a double benefit: it prevents the development of vascular disease and diabetes, but it also lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
If we know that a Mediterranean diet will delay AD, that physical activity can reduce AD risk by up to 50 percentand brain aerobics by up to 70 percent, what other reason do we need to make the change today? To make exercise a daily routine, in balance with the diet, is all in our hands, to do it now and not regret it later.
There is no guarantee available that anybody would get Alzheimer’s. But as Dr. Richard Restak, a neuroscientist, says, we can do things to lower the chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease, just as if you wear a seatbelt, watch your speed, and keep your car in good shape you can lessen the chances of a car accident.