An Ounce of Prevention

April 1, 2011 in Antioxidants, Diabetes, Food and the Brain, Health, Mediterranean by Mary Ireland

To me, Alzheimer’s disease is the most terrifying disease. I watched my grandmother’s memory and cognitive abilities decline to the extent that family members had to care for her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. She “lived” that way for 15 years. My grandmother didn’t know who she was nor did she recognize those family members who sacrificed so much to care for her. She had lost the essence of her being and merely existed unable to meaningfully interact. In addition to losing my grandmother, I also lost a cousin to Alzheimer’s disease. She died at age 70. My mother-in-law died of Alzheimer’s at age 89.

The state of California released a press statement about Alzheimer’s disease earlier this month outlining a 10-year course of action with guiding principles, goals and recommendations to prepare the state for this growing health crisis. The cost of medical and social supports for Alzheimer's just in California is expected to jump from $16 billion to $31.3 billion by 2030. Similarly, the state of Utah, projected to have the nation’s fastest-growing rate of dementia diagnoses by 2025, has set up a task force to determine how the state will manage the soaring costs and responsibilities related to Alzheimer’s care. Alzheimer’s poses a tremendous burden to our society in loss of the victim's quality of life, personal and financial sacrifices by family members and health care costs by the state and federal governments.

Recent studies have shown that people with diabetes have a 30 to 65 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to non-diabetic individuals. David R. Schubert, Ph.D., professor in the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory led a research effort to help understand the relationship. In the study, published online in Neurobiology of Aging, investigators report that the blood vessels in the brain of young diabetic mice are damaged by the interaction of elevated blood glucose levels and beta amyloid, a peptide that clumps to form the senile plaques that riddle the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

In this study, the mice suffered blood vessel damage to prior to any noticeable signs of Alzheimer's. Further experiments revealed that the vascular damage was due to the overproduction of free radicals, resulting in oxidative damage to the cells lining the brain's blood vessels. When combined with the high blood glucose levels, the beta amyloids create a high level of toxicity. According to Schubert, the vascular damage, significant memory loss and increased brain inflammation took place before the first plaques appeared.

Independent of diabetes, cardiovascular disease increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's or vascular dementia as a result of conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. These conditions include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and high cholesterol. Autopsy studies show that as many as 80 percent of individuals with Alzheimer's disease also have cardiovascular disease. Corroborating the previously mentioned study, these autopsy studies suggest that plaques and tangles may be present in the brain and only resulting cognitive decline when the brain also shows evidence of vascular disease.

Evidence suggests that advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) (See Why Turn the Heat Down and Poach, Stew or Steam?) and their receptor (RAGE) may play an important role in the development of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that destroy brain function. Accumulation of AGEs in cells and tissues is a normal feature of aging, but is accelerated in Alzheimer's disease.

There are still so many things that we don’t know about Alzheimer’s. At this point in the research, the best approach seems to be taking advantage of the simple lifestyle changes that may help us to avoid the disease. Watch this video on this page to learn about how lifestyle changes can may a huge difference. If you are a frequent visitor to this site, you know that healthy lifestyle is the foundation of Dr. Grandma’s philosophy for avoiding diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The following list is a reiteration of the healthy lifestyle changes and a few new ideas specific to Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Embrace the Mediterranean style of eating which includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. A study has shown deceased mortality in Alzheimer disease patients practicing the Mediterranean style of eating. Higher conformity to the Mediterranean style of eating was also associated with reduced risk for AD. You might try drinking green tea instead of sodas and juice and spicing up your meals with tumeric, both are high in antioxidents that are especially effective against Alzheimer's.
  • Get regular exercise. Increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain is beneficial; however, the greatest impact of exercise may be the role exercise plays in cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of developing diabetes. Research on mice genetically engineered to carry one of the human genesthat causes Alzheimer's disease showed that physical and mental stimulation appear to decrease Alzheimer symptoms and support new nerve cell growth and better cell-to-cell communication.
  • Get adequate amounts of Vitamin D.A study presented at the July, 2010 Alzheimer’s Association’s International Conference suggests a link between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life. Ways to increase Vitamin D are:
    • Expose your skin to short durations of sunshine without sunscreen.
    • Eat Cod liver oil.
    • Eat Salmon, tuna and mackerel.
    • Drink milk fortified with vitamin D.
  • Increase Vitamin E intake. Eat more almonds and spinach—and other foods rich in vitamin E. Researchers in the Netherlands followed 5,400 men and women, age 55 and older, and found that those who had diets high in vitamin E were about 25 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’sthan those who ate the least amount. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, cooking oil, wheat germ and dark leafy green vegetables.
  • Don’t depend on vitamin supplementation.Interventional studies have found that vitamin supplements cannot prevent AD.
  • Keep your mind active and maintain social connections. A number of studies indicate that maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active as we age might lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's. Experts are not certain about the reason for this association. It may be due to direct mechanisms through which social and mental stimulation protect the brain.

After reviewing the latest data on Alzheimer's, I feel more confident in my ability to significantly reduce my chances of being afflicted with it. The following curry recipe is the type of meal -- with lots of vegetables and tumeric -- I plan on incorporating into my diet.

Chicken and Vegetable Curry

Curry Sauce

I followed the recipe from How to Make a Simple Curry Anything. I'm repeating the instructions below:

Since not every cook has every ingredient, and there's no accounting for taste, I've put an asterisk (*) next to the ingredients and steps that are required. The rest can be considered optional.

Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cooking Time: 15 Minutes


  • * 2 tbsp vegetable oil (canola works best)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • * 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • * 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • * 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and diced
  • 1 or 2 green chiles, seeded and diced.( I used Rotel tomatoes with chilies in the tomatoes.)
  • * 1 tbsp cumin powder
  • * 1 tbsp corriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp chile powder or cayenne pepper
  • * 1/2 tsp turmeric (I increased this to 1 tsp)
  • * 1 can of petite-diced or crushed tomatoes
  • something else - I used chicken pieces I had left over from a boiled chicken, frozen stir-fry veggies and fresh broccoli florets
  • 2 tbsp fresh, chopped cilantro


  • Heat the oil in a sauce pan, wok or pot until it gets really hot (i.e. when a drop of water hits the pan, it sizzles like crazy).
  • Add the cumin seeds and fry until they start to brown.
  • Add the onion and stir well. Mix it up occasionally. When the onion starts getting soft and translucent, it's cooked enough.
  • Add the garlic, ginger and chiles. When the garlic turns light brown, move along.
  • Put in the spices (do not use the yellow supermarket "curry powder"; that stuff is too bland and is to "real" curry powder what Pizza Hut is to "real" pizza), stir well, and cook for another minute or two.
  • Pour in the tomatoes and stir occasionally. You want to make the tomatoes' water evaporate, so the sauce is thicker. Aim for something roughly as thick as tomato sauce; not too watery and not too thick and pasty.
  • Add your anything ingredient. This can be range from canned red beans to zucchini to pieces of leftover chicken. Stir well, to let it absorb the ingredients. If the sauce starts gets too dry, just add some water and mix well.
  • Add the cilantro as garnish (cooking destroys a lot of its flavor and fragrance) and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve with long-grain rice (e.g. basmati), plain yogurt (or raita) and chutney. (I served with whole, wheat penne pasta because I was in a hurry and didn't have rice or wheat berries frozen.)

    Peel onion and garlic. Cut a one-inch piece of ginger.

    Chop onion, garlic and grate ginger.

    Saute cumin seeds and add onions.

    Add garlic and ginger to onions.

    Add spices.

    Add tomatoes.

    Add chicken.

    Add veggies.

    Add more broccoli.

    Boil pasta for 10 minutes.

    Heat until vegetables and chicken are hot.