Science Interviews


Fri, 16th Sep 2016

5 ways to reduce your Alzheimer's risk

Dr Louise Walker, Alzheimer's Soceity

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Will We Beat Alzheimer's Disease?

Although all this research sounds promising, drug development takes time. FromRaspberries the discovery of a potential compound through to drugs hitting the market, it can take decades. In the meantime then, we need to be thinking about what you and I can do to reduce our risk. Louise Walker talked Chris Smith through her top 5 tips... 

Louise - Yes. To start off with I want to make clear that the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is age, and that Alzheimerís disease is thought to be due to a complex mixture of age, genetics, lifestyle and environment. However, there are things that people can do to reduce their risk of the condition. My number one tip is physical activity. So do exercise as much as you can, particularly if you're in mid-life.

Chris - But why does that help a brain problem? Louise:: Itís thought to help things like induce blood flow to the brain, maybe to help boost the immune system. And there is some quite exciting research that indicates if you exercise it might help to clear them out of the brain although, obviously, the research is still ongoing there.

Chris - Thatís your number one tip - take up exercise, which is good for a range of different health disorders and potential health risks. Whatís number two?

Louise - Number two is eat a healthy, balanced diet. The one that we think thereís most evidence for is the mediterranean diet. So, this is one thatís high in vegetables, high in fruit, cereals, legumes, quite a lot of oily fish, and low in red meat, dairy and sugar. And, again, thatís generally thought to be because it might help to boost brain activity through boosting the immune system - just improving blood flow, things like that.

Chris - And those things are more likely to fur up blood vessels arenít they? So if you reduce them.

Louise - Yes. High sugar....

Chris - What about this claim that people in India who eat a lot of curry and, therefore, have a lot of turmeric, which has got the anti-oxidant curcumin in it - what about the claim that thatís protective against Alzheimerís? Is that a myth or is that true?

Louise - At the moment thereís not a lot of evidence for turmeric as a way to prevent Alzheimerís disease. People have made that observation butÖ

Chris - I was just hoping you see because Iím quite partial to a curry.

Louise - People have made that observation but it hasnít shown any benefit. But there are things that curcumin has quite low bioavailabilities so, if you eat it, it doesnít really get into your brain very much. So thereís currently not much evidence for that. And thereís things about cultural aspects of living in India which might be why Alzheimerís appears to be lower in that population.

Chris - And the next thing on your list?

Louise - The next thing on my list is to stop smoking. This is mostly because smoking is very damaging to blood vessels and thereís a lot of evidence showing that blood vessels raises your risk, particularly of vascular dementia, but maybe of Alzheimerís disease as well. So, if you are a smoker, thereís evidence actually that if you stop at any age, it will help to reduce your risk.

Chris - And the next one?

Louise - The next one is to manage certain conditions. These include diabetes; if you do have diabetes make sure that you manage your condition well. And another condition you should keep in check is high blood pressure, because high blood pressure, again, it increases your risk of dementia, particularly vascular dementia, possibly Alzheimerís disease as well. So, if you know you have one of these conditions, make sure you manage them, make sure you get your blood pressure checked regularly, particularly again, if you're in middle age when youíre most vulnerable to these processes that cause Alzheimerís disease.

Chris - And number five?

Louise - Number five is one thatís a little bit less evidence-based but itís quite a nice one. So, if you try and keep as mentally and socially active as you can: doing maybe crossword puzzles, jigsaws, make sure your go out with your friends a lot. Thereís a few specially tailored brain training games that - lots of trials have been happening now - and theyíre starting to show that maybe thereís some evidence that if you do these on a regular basis that you might be able to reduce your risk of dementia. I should just point out that these are very particular games made by scientists, not your average brain training computer games.

Chris - It works in mice thought and rats, doesnít it? If you give them a rich environment in which to grow, and you give them toys to play with, they succumb to these sorts of brain eroding illnesses at a later date than if they have a boring existence with less mental stimulation.

Louise - Yes, but we always have to remember, as always, in these kinds of things, how things work in mice doesnít necessarily work that way in people. So thereís quite a lot of work going on now to try and found out if people keep mentally and socially active, whether they reduce the risk or delay the onset of Alzheimerís disease. So itís quite exciting research and we are hoping to see some results coming out on some of those trials soon.


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