Q: My father (at age 78) and my aunt (at age 82) both developed Alzheimer's. I'm scared that I will too. Is there anything I can do to protect myself? -- Felicia D., Coral Gables, Florida
A: Although there is some indication that the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease may have a genetic component, there is overwhelming evidence that it is often related to lifestyle choices -- especially dietary choices. Now a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reveals the particular culprits in a diet -- and how they contribute to the cognitive decline of AD.
The researchers focus on the damage done by higher consumption of saturated fats in red and processed meats (especially hot dogs, hamburgers and barbeque) and ultra-processed foods that are loaded with sugar and refined grains (snacks, breads, sugared beverages).
Meats, and other sources of saturated fats like whole dairy, boost the risk of AD because they cause inflammation and are associated with insulin resistance and oxidative stress (rusting out your innards). Ultra-processed foods are a risk factor because they boost your chances of developing obesity and diabetes, and fuel inflammation which additionally amplifies your risk for AD. In addition, red meats and sugary foods amp up your body's production of advanced glycation end products. That can lead to brain inflammation associated with AD and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and renal failure.
The research also pinpoints foods that can protect you from AD (they can even modify genetic risk): green leafy vegetables, fruits and vegetables (especially colorful ones), legumes and beans, nuts (walnuts are numero uno), omega-3 fatty acids (salmon and sea trout deliver), and whole grains.
In addition, stress reduction, regular physical activity (they both reduce inflammation), and keeping your brain sharp with games and ongoing learning can protect you from cognitive decline. LongevityPlaybook.com presents 40 choices that have been shown in at least two studies each to help keep your brain functioning as if you were younger.
Q: I'm developing osteoarthritis in my hands, feet and shoulders. What can I do to prevent it from getting worse? I don't want to have to stop exercising. -- Harold R., Omaha, Nebraska
A: Keep on keeping on! Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center says regular physical activity can "keep muscles around affected joints strong, decrease bone loss and may help control joint swelling and pain." It also helps keep cartilage around your joints lubricated, reducing stiffness and pain.
There are also pain management techniques that may help you feel better as you continue to be physically active. According to the Cleveland Clinic's Holistic Pain Management Program, acupuncture, physical therapy, yoga and improved nutrition (avoiding inflammatory red meats and ultra-processed foods) may provide relief. One caveat: Relief from acupuncture may be more from the placebo effect than from any specific benefit of needling. But hey, if it makes pain lessen, that's a good thing, since there is no downside. And a supplement that has gained popularity in Europe stops or decreases osteoarthritis progression. It is called avocado-soybean unsappontafiable in the U.S. (Priscoline in Europe). Show your practitioner the research on it from the library at LongevityPlaybook.com and discuss if it is right for you.
More good news: There's been a breakthrough in understanding what causes osteoarthritis and a possible treatment that does more than ease symptoms (or replace worn out joints). Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia, experimenting on mice, have found a way to regenerate cartilage and reduce osteoarthritis (or prevent it). It's done by blocking certain stem cells that are responsible for progression of osteoarthritis by using what is called fibroblast growth factor 18 to stimulate the proliferation of a gene called Gremlin 1 (that's really its name) in joint cartilage.
So while we are waiting to see how this works in ongoing clinical trials on humans, embrace the very beneficial self-help techniques you can use to slow progression, ease pain and stay active.
Dr. Mike Roizen is the founder of longevityplaybook.com, and Dr. Mehmet Oz is global advisor to iHerb.com, the world's leading online health store. Roizen and Oz are chief wellness officer emeritus at Cleveland Clinic and professor emeritus at Columbia University, respectively. Together they have written 11 New York Times bestsellers (four No. 1's).
King Features Syndicate